Skip to main content

Full text of "Plato The Man And His Work"

See other formats


00 a: 

OU 160432 >m 


UP43 30-1-71 5,000 


Call No. Accession No, P^T 

This book should be returned on or before the date last marked below. 



By the same author 


(a translation) 


Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Edinburgh 



.rest Graduate Library of Arts & Commerce. 0. U. 

36 Essex Street, Strand, WC2 

First published October a8th 1926 

Second Edition June if)2j 

Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged, October 1929 

lonrth Edition, Revised, October iyj? 

Fifth Edition July 1048 

Sixth Edition June 1949 

Reprinted 1952 and 1955 







Vagliami il lungo studio e 7 grande amore 


I HOPE two classes of readers may find their account in this 
book "Honours students " in our Universities, and readers 
with philosophical interests, but no great store of Greek 
scholarship. What both classes most need in a work about Plato 
is to be told just what Plato has to say about the problems of 
thought and life, and how he says it. What neither needs is to be 
told what some contemporary thinks Plato should have said. The 
sense of the greatest thinker of the ancient world ought not to be 
trimmed to suit the tastes of a modern neo-Kantian, neo-Hegelian, 
or neo-realist. Again, to understand Plato's thought we must see 
it in the right historical perspective. The standing background of 
the picture must be the social, political, and economic life of the 
age of Socrates, or, for the Laws, of the age of Plato. These con- 
siderations have determined the form of the present volume. It 
offers an analysis of the dialogues, not a systematization of their 
contents under a set of subject-headings. Plato himself hated 
nothing more than system-making. If he had a system, he has 
refused to tell us what it was, and if we attempt to force a system 
on a mind which was always growing, we are sure to end by mis- 
representation. This is why I have tried to tell the reader just 
what Plato says, and made no attempt to force a " system " on the 
Platonic text. My own comments are intended to supply exegesis, 
based as closely as may be on Plato's own words, not to applaud 
nor to denounce. The result, I hope, is a picture which may claim 
the merit of historical fidelity. For the same reason I have been 
unusually careful to determine the date and historical setting 
assumed for each dialogue. We cannot really understand the 
Republic or the Gorgias if we forget that the Athens of these con- 
versations is meant to be the Athens of Nicias or Cleon, not the 
very different Athens of Plato's own manhood, or if we find polemic 
against Isocrates, in talk supposed to have passed at a time when 
Isocrates was a mere boy. If it were not that the remark might 
sound immodest, I would say that the model I have had before me 
is Grote's great work on the Companions of Socrates. Enjoying 



neither Crete's superb scholarship nor his freedom from limitations 
of space, I have perhaps the compensation of freedom from the 
prejudices of a party. Whatever bias I may have in metaphysics 
or in politics, I have tried to keep it out of my treatment of Plato. 

I must apologize for some unavoidable omissions. I have been 
unable to include a chapter on the Academy in the generation 
after Plato and Aristotle's criticisms of it ; I have had to exclude 
from consideration the minor dubia and the spuria of the Platonic 
corpus ; I have passed very lightly over much of the biology of the 
Timaeus. These omissions have been forced on me by the necessity 
of saying what I have to say in one volume of moderate compass. 
For the same reason I have had to make my concluding chapter 
little more than a series of hints. This omission will, I trust, be 
remedied by the publication of a study, "Forms and Numbers," which 
will, in part, appear in Mind simultaneously with the issue of this 
volume. The details of the Timaeus are fully dealt with in a 
Commentary now in course of printing at the Clarendon Press. A 
brief account better than none of the transmission of the Platonic 
tradition will be found in my little book, Platonism and its Influence 
(1924 ; Marshall Jones Co., Boston, U.S.A. ; British Agents, 
Harrap & Son). 

Want of space has sometimes forced me to state a conclusion 
without a review of the evidence, but I hope I have usually indicated 
the quarters where the evidence may be sought. May I say, once 
for all, that this book is no " compilation " ? I have tried to form 
a judgment on all questions, great and small, for myself, and mention 
of any work, ancient or modern, means, with the rarest of exceptions, 
that I have studied it from one end to the other. 

There remains the grateful duty of acknowledging obligations. 
I am a debtor to many besides those whom I actually quote, and I 
hope I have not learned least from many whose views I feel bound 
to reject. In some cases I have echoed a well-known phrase or 
accepted a well-established result without express and formal 
acknowledgment. It must be understood that such things are 
mere consequences of the impossibility ol excessive multiplication 
of footnotes, and that I here, once for all, request any one from 
whom I may have made such a loan to accept my thanks. The 
recommendations at the ends of chapters are not meant to be 
exhaustive nor necessarily to imply agreement with all that is said 
in the work or chapter recommended. The last thing I should wish 
is that my readers should see Plato through my spectacles. I wish 
here to make general mention of obligation to a host of scholars of 
our own time, such as Professors Apelt, Parmentier, Robin, Dr. 


Adolfo Levi, the late Dr. James Adam, and others, besides those 
whose names recur more frequently in my pages. The immense 
debt of my own generation to scholars of an earlier date, such as 
Grote, Zeller, Diels, Baeumker, Bonitz, is too obvious to need more 
than this simple reference. 

To two living scholars I must make very special acknowledgment. 
How much I owe to the published writings of my friend and colleague 
in Scotland, Professor Burnet, will be apparent on almost every page 
of my book ; I owe even more to suggestions of every kind received 
during a personal intercourse of many years. I owe no less to 
Professor C. Ritter of Tubingen, who has given us, as part of the 
work of a life devoted to Platonic researches, the best existing 
commentary on the Laws and the finest existing full-length study 
of Plato and his philosophy as a whole. One cannot despair of 
one's kind when one remembers that such a work was brought to 
completion in the darkest years Europe has known since 1648. It 
is a great honour to me that Dr. Rittnr has allowed me to associate 
his name with this poor volume. Finally, I thank the publishers 
for their kindness in allowing the book to run to such a length. 

EDINBURGH, July 1926 


THIS Second Edition only differs from the first by the 
correction of misprints, the addition of one or two 
references and the modification of a few words in two or 
three of the footnotes. 

EDINBURGH, March 1927 


APART from minor corrections and some additions to the 
references appended to various chapters, this edition only 
differs from its precursors by the presence of a Chronological 
Table of Dates and an Appendix, dealing briefly with the dubia 
and spuria of the Platonic tradition. (I have, for convenience* 
sake, included in this a short account of a number of Platonic 
epistles which I myself believe to be neither dubious nor spurious, 
but have not had occasion to cite in the body of the book.) I 
should explain that this essay was substantially written in 1926, 
though it has been revised since. 

1 take this opportunity of mentioning the following recent works, 
to which I should have been glad to give more specific references 
in the text, had they come into my hands a little sooner. All will 
be found valuable by the serious student of Plato. 

STENZEL, J. Platon der Erzieher. (Leipzig, 1928.) 

SOLMSEN, F. Der Entwichlung der Aristotelischen Logik und 

Rhetorik. (Berlin, 1929.) 
WALZER, R. Magna Moralia und Aristotelische Ethik. (Berlin, 

TOEPLITZ, O. Das Verhdltnis von Mathematik und Ideenlehre bei 

Plato, in Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik I. i. 

(Berlin, 1929.) 
ROBIN, L. Greek Thought and the Origins of the Scientific Spirit. 

(E. Tr. from the revised edition of the author's La Pense'e 

Grecque, London, 1928.) 

EDINBURGH, July, 1929 


I HAVE made few changes in this new edition of the text, 
though I have been led to rewrite one or two paragraphs in 
the chapter on the Timaeus by study of Professor Cornford's 
valuable commentary on his translation of the dialogue. I have 
tried to remove misprints and detected errors throughout. Among 
works important for the student of Plato published since the earlier 
editions of this book I could mention in particular the following : 

FRUTIGER, P. Les Mythes de Platon. (Paris, 1930.) 
SHOREY, P. What Plato Said. (Chicago, 1933.) 
NOVOTNY, F. Platonis Epistulae. (Brno, 1930.) 
HARWARD, J. The Platonic Epistles. (E. Tr. Cambridge, 1932.) 
FIELD, G. C. Plato and His Contemporaries. (London, 1930.) 
CORNFORD, F. M. Plato's Cosmology, the Timaeus of Plato trans- 
lated with a running commentary. (London, 1937.) 
SCHULL, P. M. Essai sur la Formation de la Pense'e Grecque. (Paris, 






I. THE LIFE OF PLATO. ...... i 



ION, MENEXENUS . . . . . 23 




VIII. PHAEDO . . . . * 174 

IX. SYMPOSIUM . ...... 209 

X. PROTAGORAS ........ 235 

XI. REPUBLIC ........ 263 

XII. PHAEDRUS ........ 299 

XIII. THBABTETUS ........ 320 

XIV. PARMENIDBS ........ 349 


XVI. PHILEBUS ........ 40^ 




ADDENDA . . . . . . . . 517 





II. INDEX OF SUBJECTS . . . . .561 


THE following abbreviations have occasionally been used : 

E.G.Ph* = BURNET, Early Greek Philosophy (yd edition), 

E.R.E. = HASTINGS, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 


R.P. = RITTER AND PREFER, Histona Philosophiae Graccae 
(9th edition), 1913. 





PLATO, son of Ariston and Perictione, was born in the month 
Thargelion (May-June) of the first year of the eighty-eighth 
Olympiad by the reckoning of the scholars of Alexandria, 
428-7 B.C. of our own era, and died at the age of eighty or eighty- 
one in Ol. 108.1 (348-7 B.C.). These dates rest apparently on the 
authority of the great Alexandrian chronologist Eratosthenes and 
may be accepted as certain. Plato's birth thus falls in the fourth 
year of the Archidamian war, in the year following the death 
of Pericles, and his death only ten years before the battle of Chae- 
ronea, which finally secured to Philip of Macedon the hegemony 
of the Hellenic world. His family was, on both sides, one of the 
most distinguished in the Athens of the Periclean age. On the 
father's side the pedigree was traditionally believed to go back to 
the old kings of Athens, and through them to the god Posidon. On 
the mother's side the descent is equally illustrious and more his- 

1 The chief extant lives are : (a) Apuleius, de Platone, \. 1-4 ; (6) Diogenes 
Laertius, iii. i (critical edition, Basle, 1907) ; (c) Olympiodorus (Platonis Opera, 
ed. Hermann, vi. 190-195). The least bad of these is (6), which appears 
to have been originally composed for a lady amateur of Platonic philosophy 
((/uXoTrXaruw W COL StKa/wj virapxov<ry , 47), not before the latter part 
of the first century of our era. The one or two references to the scholar 
Favorinus of Aries may possibly be later marginal annotations by an owner 
or copier of the text. If they are original, they would bring down the date 
of the Life to the latter part of the second century A.D. In the main Diogenes 
Laertius appears to give the version of Plato's life accepted by the literati 
of Alexandria. But we can see from what we know of the work of Alex- 
andrians like Sotion, Satyrus, and Hermippus, that biographies were already 
being ruined by the craze for romantic or piquant anecdote before the end 
of the third century B.C. In Plato's case there is a peculiar reason for 
suspicion of Alexandrian narratives. The writers were largely dependent 
on the assertions of Aristoxenus of Tarentum, a scholar of Aristotle who 
had known the latest generation of the fourth century Pythagoreans. Aris- 
toxenus has long been recognized as a singularly mendacious person, and 
he had motives for misrepresenting both Socrates and Plato. See Burnet, 
Greek Philosophy, Part /., p. 153. 


torically certain, and is incidentally recorded for us by Plato himself 
in the Timaeus. Perictione was sister of Charmides and cousin of 
Critias, both prominent figures in the brief " oligarchic " anarchy 
which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Pelopon- 
nesian war (404-3 B.C.). The grandfather of this Critias, Plato's 
maternal great-grandfather, was another Critias, introduced in the 
Timaeus, whose own great-grandfather Dropides was a " friend and 
kinsman " of Solon, the great Attic legislator. The father of this 
Dropides, also called Dropides, the first member of the house who 
figures in authentic history, was the archon of the year 644 B.C. 
Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had at least three 
other children. These were two older sons, Adimantus and Glaucon, 
who appear as young men in Plato's Republic, and a daughter 
Potone. Ariston appears to have died in Plato's childhood ; his 
widow then married her uncle Pyrilampes, whom we know from the 
allusions of the comic poets to have been a personal intimate of 
Pericles as well as a prominent supporter of his policy. Pyrilampes 
was already by a former marriage the father of the handsome 
Demus, the great " beauty " of the time of the Archidamian war ; 
by Perictione he had a younger son Antiphon who appears in Plato's 
Parmenides, where we learn that he had given up philosophy for 
horses. 1 

These facts are of considerable importance for the student of 
Plato's subsequent career. Nothing is more characteristic of him 
than his lifelong conviction that it is the imperative duty of the 
philosopher, whose highest personal happiness would be found in 
the life of serene contemplation of truth, to make the supreme 
sacrifice of devoting the best of his manhood to the service of his 
fellows as a statesman and legislator, if the opportunity offers. 
Plato was not content to preach this doctrine in the Republic ; he 
practised it, as we shall see, in his own life. The emphasis he lays 
on it is largely explained when we remember that from the first he 
grew up in a family with traditions of Solon and accustomed through 
several generations to play a prominent part in the public life of 
the State. Something of Plato's remarkable insight into the realities 
of political life must, no doubt, be set down to early upbringing in 
a household of " public men." So, too, it is important to remember, 
though it is too often forgotten, that the most receptive years of 
Plato's early life must have been spent in the household of his step- 
father, a prominent figure of the Periclean regime. Plato has often 
been accused of a bias against " democracy." If he had such a 
bias, it is not to be accounted for by the influence of early sur- 
roundings. He must have been originally indoctrinated with 
" Periclean " politics ; his dislike of them in later life, so far as it 

1 See the family tree in Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I., Appendix I., p. 357. 
For Pyrilampes, cf. Charmides, 1580, and for Demus, Gorgias, 48 id 5, Aristo- 
phanes, Wasps, 98. According to Ep. xiii. 3610, Perictione was still alive 
at the date of writing (i.e. about 366), but her death was expected, as 
Plato speaks of the expense of the funeral as one which he will shortly have to 
meet. Nothing is known of Pyrilampes after the battle of Delium (424 B.C.). 


is real at all, is best intelligible as a consequence of having been 
" behind the scenes." If he really disliked democracy, it was not 
with the dislike of ignorance but with that of the man who has 
known too much. 

The actual history of Plato's life up to his sixtieth year is almost 
a blank. In his own dialogues he makes a practice of silence about 
himself, only broken once in the Apology, where he names himself as 
one of the friends who urged Socrates to increase the amount of the 
fine he proposed on himself from one mina to thirty and offered 
to give security for the payment, and again in the Phaedo, where 
he mentions an illness as the explanation of his absence from the 
death-scene. 1 Aristotle adds the one further detail that Plato had 
been " in his youth familiar with " the Heraclitean Cratylus, though 
we cannot be absolutely sure that this is more than a conjecture of 
Aristotle's own. The later writers of the extant Lives of Plato add 
some details, but these are mainly of a purely anecdotal kind and 
not to be implicitly trusted. In any case their scraps of anecdote 
throw no light on Plato's life or character and we may safely 
neglect them here. All we can be sure of, down to Plato's twenty- 
sixth year, is that the influence of friendship with Socrates must 
have been the most potent force in the moulding of his mind. (We 
may add that if Aristotle's statement about Cratylus 2 really is 
more than an inference, the Heraclitean doctrine, learned from 
Cratylus, that the world disclosed to us by our senses is a scene of 
incessant and incalculable mutability and variation, was one which 
Plato never forgot. He drew, says Aristotle, the conclusion that 
since there is genuine science, that of which science treats must be 
something other than this unresting " flux " of sense-appearances.) 

The gossiping Alexandrian biographers represented Plato as 
* hearing " Socrates at the age of eighteen or twenty. This cannot 
mean that his first introduction to Socrates took place at that age. 
We know from Plato himself that Socrates had made the close 
acquaintance of Plato's uncle Charmides in the year 431, and was 
even then familiar with Critias. 8 Presumably Plato's acquaintance 
with Socrates, then, went back as far as he could remember. The 
Alexandrian tales will only mean that Plato became a " disciple " 
of Socrates as soon as he was an tyyfios or " adolescent," a period 
of life currently reckoned as beginning at eighteen and ending at 
twenty. Even with this explanation the story is probably not 
accurate. Both Plato and Isocrates, his older contemporary, 
emphatically deny that Socrates ever had any actual " disciples " 
whom he " instructed," and Plato himself, in a letter written nearly 
at the end of his life, puts the matter in a truer light. He tells us 
there that at the time of the " oligarchical " usurpation of 404-3, 
being still a very young man, he was looking forward to a political 
career and was urged by relatives who were among the revolu- 
tionaries (no doubt, Critias and Charmides) to enter public life 

1 Apology, 386 6, Phaedo, 596 10. Aristotle, Met. 98 ;a 32. 

1 See the opening pages of the Charmides. 


under their auspices, but waited to see first what their policy would 
be. He was horrified to find that they soon showed signs of lawless 
violence, and finally disgusted when they attempted to make his 
" elderly friend Socrates/' the best man of his time, an accomplice 
in the illegal arrest and execution of a fellow-citizen whose property 
they intended to confiscate. The leaders of restored democracy 
did worse, for they actually put Socrates to death on an absurd 
charge of impiety. This, Plato says, put an end to his own political 
aspirations. For in politics nothing can be achieved without a 
party, and the treatment of Socrates by both the Athenian factions 
proved that there was no party at Athens with whom an honourable 
man could work. The suggestion clearly made here is that Plato 
did not regard Socrates as, properly speaking, a master. He loved 
him personally as a young man loves a revered elder friend, and he 
thought of him as a martyr. But it was not until the actual execu- 
tion of Socrates opened his eyes once for all that he gave up his 
original intention of taking up active political life as his career. 
His original aspirations had been those of the social and legislative 
reformer, not those of the thinker or man of science. 1 

Hermodorus, 2 an original member of Plato's Academy, stated 
that for the moment the friends of Socrates felt themselves in 
danger just after his death, and that Plato in particular, with 
others, withdrew for a while to the neighbouring city of Megara 
under the protection of Euclides of that city, a philosopher who was 
among the foreign friends present at the death of Socrates and 
combined certain Socratic tenets with the Eleaticism of Parmenides. 
This temporary concentration at Megara presumably would only 
last until the feelings aroused in connexion with the cause celebre 
had had time to blow over. The biographers narrate that it was 
followed by some years of travel to Cyrene, Italy, and Egypt, and 
that the Academy was then founded on Plato's return to Athens. 
How much of this story none of it rests, like the mention of the 
sojourn in Megara, on the evidence of Hermodorus may be true, is 
very doubtful Plato himself, in the letter already alluded to, 
merely says that he visited Italy and Sicily at the age of forty and 
was repelled by the sensual luxury of the life led there by the well- 
to-do. His language on the whole implies that most of the time 
between this journey and the death of Socrates had been spent at 
Athens, watching the public conduct of the city and drawing the 
conclusion that good government can only be expected when 
" either true and genuine philosophers find their way to political 
authority or powerful politicians by the favour of Providence take 
to true philosophy." He says nothing of travels in Africa or 
Egypt, though some of the observations made in the Laws about 
the art and music, the arithmetic and the games of the Egyptian 
children have the appearance of being first-hand. The one 
fateful result of Plato's " travels," in any case, is that he won 
the whole-hearted devotion of a young man of ability and 
1 See the full explanation of all this at Ep. vii. 3246 8-3266 4. D.L., iii. 6. 


promise, Dion, son-in-law of the reigning " tyrant " of Syracuse, 
Dionysius I. 1 

The founding of the Academy is the turning-point in Plato's 
life, and in some ways the most memorable event in the history of 
Western European science. For Plato it meant that, after long 
waiting, he had found his true work in life. He was henceforth to 
be the first president of a permanent institution for the prosecution 
of science by original research. In one way the career was not a 
wholly unprecedented one. Plato's rather older contemporary 
Isocrates presided in the same way over an establishment for higher 
education, and it is likely that his school was rather the older of the 
two. The novel thing about the Platonic Academy was that it 
was an institution for the prosecution of scientific study. Isocrates, 
like Plato, believed in training young men for public life. But unlike 
Plato he held the opinion of the " man in the street " about the 
uselessness of science. It was his boast that the education he had 
to offer was not founded on hard and abstract science with no 
visible humanistic interest about it ; he professed to teach 
" opinions," as we should say, to provide the ambitious aspirant 
to public life with " points of view/ 1 and to train him to express his 
" point of view " with the maximum of polish and persuasiveness. 
This is just the aim of " journalism " in its best forms, and Isocrates 
is the spiritual father of all the " essayists/ 1 from his own day to 
ours, who practise the agreeable and sometimes beneficial art of 
saying nothing, or saying the commonplace, in a perfect style. He 
would be the " Greek Addison " but for the fact that personally 
he was a man of real discernment in political matters and, unlike 
Addison, really had something to say. But it is needless to remark 
that an education in humanistic commonplace has never really 
proved the right kind of training to turn out great men of action. 
Plato's rival scheme meant the practical application to education 
of the conviction which had become permanent with him that the 
hope of the world depends on the union of political power and 
genuine science. This is why the pure mathematics the one 
department of sheer hard thinking which had attained any serious 
development in the fourth century B.C. formed the backbone of 
the curriculum, and why in the latter part of the century the two 
types of men who were successfully turned out in the Academy 
were original mathematicians and skilled legislators and admini- 

1 T have said nothing of the story related, e.g., in D.L., iii., 18-21, that 
Dionysius I had Plato kidnapped and handed over to a Spartan admiral who 
exposed him for sale at Aegina, where he was ransomed by an acquaintance 
from Gyrene. The story, though quite possible, seems not too probable, and 
looks to be no more than an anecdote intended to blacken the character of 
Dionysius, who in fact, though masterful enough, was neither brute nor fool. 
In spite of the counter-assertion of Diels, it is pretty certainly not referred to in 
Aristotle, Physics, B iggb 13. Simplicius seems clearly right in supposing that 
Aristotle's allusion is to some situation in a comedy. The statement that 
Dionysius attempted to kidnap Plato is made earlier by Cornelius Nepos, 
Dion, c. 2, and perhaps comes from the Sicilian historian Timaeus. 


strators, a point on which we shall have a word or two to say in 
the sequel. It is this, too, which makes the Academy the direct 
progenitor of the mediaeval and modern university : a university 
which aims at supplying the State with legislators and administrators 
whose intellects have been developed in the first instance by the 
disinterested pursuit of truth for its own sake is still undertaking, 
under changed conditions, the very task Plato describes as the 
education of the " philosopher king." The immediate and percep- 
tible outward sign of the new order of things in the Greek world is 
that whereas in the age of Plato's birth aspiring young Athenians 
had to depend for their " higher education " on the lectures of a 
peripatetic foreign " sophist/' in the Athens of fifty years later 
aspiring young men from all quarters flocked to Athens to learn 
from Isocrates or Plato or both. The travelling lecturer was 
replaced by the university or college with a fixed domicile and 
a constitution. 

Unfortunately the exact date of the foundation of the Academy 
is unknown. From the obvious connexion between its programme 
and the conviction Plato speaks of having definitely reached at 
the time when he visited Italy and Sicily at the age of forty, we 
should naturally suppose that the foundation took place about this 
time (388-7 B.C.) ; and it is easier to suppose that the visit to Sicily 
preceded it, as the later biographical statements assume, than that 
it followed directly on its inception. If there is any truth in the 
statement that the real object of Plato's journey was to visit the 
Pythagoreans, who were beginning to be formed into a school again 
under Archytas of Tarentum, we may suppose that it was precisely 
the purpose of founding the Academy which led Plato just at this 
juncture to the very quarter where he might expect to pick up 
useful hints and suggestions for his guidance ; but this can be no 
more than a conjecture. 

We have to think of Plato for the next twenty years as mainly 
occupied with the onerous work of organizing and maintaining his 
school. " Lecturing " would be part of this work, and we. know 
from Aristotle that Plato did actually " lecture " without a manu- 
script at a much later date. But the delivery of these lectures 
would be only a small part of the work to be done. It was one of 
Plato's firmest convictions that nothing really worth knowing can 
be learned by merely listening to " instruction " ; the only true 
method of "learning " science is that of being actually engaged, in 
company with a more advanced mind, in the discovery of scientific 
truth. 1 Very little in the way of actual " new theorems " is ascribed 
to Plato by the later writers on the history of mathematical science, 
but the men trained in his school or closely associated with it made 
all the great advances achieved in the interval between the downfall 
of the original Pythagorean order about the middle of the fifth 
century and the rise of the specialist schools of Alexandria in the 

1 />, vii. 341^-0. See the comments on this passage in Burnet, Greek 
Philosophy, Part I., 220-222. 


third. In estimating Plato's work for science it is necessary to 
take account first and foremost of the part he must have played 
as the organizer and director of the studies of this whole brilliant 
group. It was, no doubt, this which induced the first mathematician 
of the time, Eudoxus of Cnidus, to transport himself and his scholars 
bodily from Cyzicus to Athens to make common cause with the 
Academy. Probably we are not to think of Plato as writing much 
during these twenty years. He would be too busy otherwise, and, 
as we shall see, there is the strongest reason for thinking that most 
of his dialogues, including all those which are most generally known 
to-day, were all composed by his fortieth year, or soon after, while 
the important half-dozen or so which must be assigned to a later 
date most probably belong definitely to his old age. 

In the year 367 something happened which provided Plato, 
now a man of sixty, with the great adventure of his life. Dionysius I 
of Syracuse, who had long governed his native city nominally as 
annually elected generalissimo, really as autocrat or " tyrant/' died. 
He was succeeded by his son Dionysius II, a man of thirty whose 
education had been neglected and had left him totally unfitted to 
take up his father's great task of checking the expansion of the 
Carthaginians, which was threatening the very existence of Greek 
civilization in Western Sicily. The strong man of Syracuse at the 
moment was Dion, brother-in-law of the new " tyrant," the same 
who had been so powerfully attached to Plato twenty years before. 
Dion, a thorough believer in Plato's views about the union of 
political power with science, conceived the idea of fetching Plato 
personally to Syracuse to attempt the education of his brother-in- 
law. Plato felt that the prospect of success was not promising, 
but the Carthaginian danger was very real, if the new ruler of 
Syracuse should prove unequal to his work, and it would be an 
everlasting dishonour to the Academy if no attempt were made to 
put its theory into practice when the opportunity offered at such a 
critical juncture. Accordingly Plato, though with a great deal of 
misgiving, made up his mind to accept Dion's invitation. 

If the Epistles ascribed in our Plato MSS. to Plato are genuine 
(as I have no doubt that the great bulk of them are), they throw 
a sudden flood of light on Plato's life for the next few years. To 
understand the situation we must bear two things in mind. Plato's 
object was not, as has been fancied, the ridiculous one of setting up 
in the most luxurious of Greek cities a pinchbeck imitation of the 
imaginary city of the Republic. It was the practical and statesman- 
like object of trying to fit the young Dionysius for the immediate 
practical duty of checking the Carthaginians 1 and, if possible, ex- 
pelling them from Sicily, by making Syracuse the centre of a strong 
constitutional monarchy to embrace the whole body of Greek com- 
munities in the west of the island. Also, Plato's belief in the value 
of a hard scientific education for a ruler of men, wise or not, was 
absolutely genuine. Accordingly he at once set about the task 
1 Ep. vii. 3330 i, viii. 353**. 


from the beginning and made Dionysius enter on a serious course of 
geometry. For a little while things looked promising. Dionysius 
became attached to Plato and geometry the " fashion " at his court. 
But the scheme wrecked on a double obstacle. Dionysius was too 
feeble of character and his education had been left neglected too 
long, and his personal jealousies of his stronger and older relative 
were easily awakened. In a few months the situation became 
strained. Dion had to go into what was virtually banishment and 
Plato returned to Athens. Relations, however, were not broken off. 
Dionysius kept up a personal correspondence with Plato about his 
studies and projects, and Plato endeavoured to reconcile Dionysius 
and Dion. This proved not feasible when Dionysius not only 
confiscated Dion's revenues but forced his wife, for dynastic 
reasons, to marry another man. Yet Plato made another voyage 
to Syracuse and spent nearly a year there (361-360) in the hope of 
remedying the situation. On this occasion something was really 
done on the task of drafting the preliminaries to a constitution for 
the proposed federation of the Greek cities, but the influence of the 
partisans of the old regime proved too strong. Plato seems at one 
time to have been in real personal danger from the hostility of 
Dionysius' barbarian body-guards, and it was with difficulty and only 
by the mediation of Archytas of Tarentum that he finally obtained 
leave to return to Athens (360 B.C.). 

At this point Plato's personal intervention in Sicilian politics 
ceases. The quarrel between Dion and Dionysius naturally went 
on, and Dion, whose one great fault, as Plato tells him, was want of 
" adaptability " and savoir-faire, made up his mind to recover his 
rights with the strong hand. Enlistment went on in the Peloponnese 
and elsewhere, with the active concurrence of many of the younger 
members of the Academy, and in the summer of 357 Dion made a 
sudden and successful dash across the water, captured Syracuse, and 
proclaimed its " freedom." Plato wrote him a letter of congratula- 
tion on the success, but warned him of his propensity to carry things 
with too high a hand and reminded him that the world would expect 
the " You-know-who's " (the Academy) 1 to set a model of good 
behaviour. Unfortunately Dion was too good and too bad at once 
for the situation. Like Plato himself, he believed in strong though 
law-abiding personal rule and disgusted the Syracusan mob by 
not restoring " democratic " licence ; he had not the tact to manage 
disappointed associates, quarrelled with his admiral Heraclides 
and at last made away with him, or connived at his being made 
away with. Dion was in turn murdered with great treachery by 
another of his subordinates, Callippus, who is said by later writers 
to have been a member of the Academy, though this seems hard to 
reconcile with Plato's own statement that the link of association 
between the two was not " philosophy " but the mere accident of 
having been initiated together into certain " mysteries." Plato 
still believed strongly in the fundamental honesty and sanity of 

1 Ep. iv. 320 c-e, and for Dion's want of " tact," ibid. 3216, vii. 3286. 


Dion's political aims and wrote two letters to the remnants of his 
party, justifying the common policy of Dion and himself and calling 
on them to be faithful to it, and making suggestions for conciliation 
of parties which were, of course, not accepted. As he said in one of 
these letters, the fatal disunion of parties seerr-ed likely to leave 
Sicily a prey either to the Carthaginians or to the Oscans of South 
Italy. 1 

It is not necessary to follow the miserable story of events in 
Syracuse beyond the point where Plato's concern with them ends. 
But it is worth while to remark that Plato's forecast of events was 
fully justified. The " unification of Sicily," when it came at last, 
came as a fruit of the success of the Romans in the first two Punic 
wars ; and, as Professor Burnet has said, this was the beginning of the 
long series of events which has made the cleavage between Eastern 
Europe, deriving what civilization it has direct from Constantinople, 
and Western Europe with its latinized Hellenism. If Plato had 
succeeded at Syracuse, there might have been no " schism of the 
churches " and no " Eastern problem " to-day. 

Nothing is known, beyond an anecdote or two not worth re- 
cording, of Plato's latest years. All that we can say is that he must 
still have gone on from time to time lecturing to his associates in 
the Academy, since Aristotle, who only entered the Academy in 
367, was one of his hearers, and that the years between 360 and his 
death must have been busily occupied with the composition of his 
longest and ripest contribution to the literature of moral and 
political philosophy, the Laws. Probably also, all the rest of the 
dialogues which manifestly belong to the later part of Plato's 
life must be supposed to have been written after his final return from 
Sicily. A complete suspension of composition for several years 
will best explain the remarkable difference in style between all of 
them and even the maturest of those which preceded. It may be 
useful to remember that of the years mentioned as marking im- 
portant events in Plato's life, the year 388 is that of the capture of 
Rome by the Gauls, 367 the traditional date of the " Licinian 
rogations " and the defeat of the Gauls at Alba by Camillas, 361 
that of the penetration of the Gauls into Campania. 
See further : 

BURNET, J. Greek Philosophy, Part /., Chapters xii., xv. 

BURNET, J. Platonism (1928). 

FRIEDLANDER, P. Platon : Eidos, Paideia, Dialogos (1928). 

GROTE, G. Plato and the other Companions cf Socrates, Chapter v. 

RITTER, C. Platon, i., Chapters i.-v. (Munich, 1914.) 

WILAMOWITZ-MOELLENDORFF, U. v. Platon. (Ed. 2. Berlin, 

SIENZEL, J. Platon der Erzieher. (Leipzig, 1928.) 

The general historical background of Plato's life may be studied 
in any good history of Greece. Specially excellent is 

MEYER, E. Geschichte des Altertums, vol. v. (Stuttgart and 
Berlin, 1902.) 

ROBIN, L. Platon, pp. 1-8. 


PLATO is the one voluminous author of classical antiquity 
whose works seem to have come down to us whole and entire. 
Nowhere in later antiquity do we come on any reference to a 
Platonic work which we do not still possess. It is true that we 
know nothing of the contents of Plato's lectures except from a few 
scanty notices in Aristotle or quotations preserved from con- 
temporaries of Aristotle by the Aristotelian commentators. But 
the explanation of this seems to be that Plato habitually lectured 
without any kind of manuscript. This explains why Aristotle 
speaks of certain doctrines as taught in the " unwritten teaching " 
(ay/oa</>a Soy/xara) of his master, and why at least five of the auditors 
of a particularly famous lecture (that on " The Good "), including 
both Aristotle and Xenocrates, published their own recollections of 
it. We must suppose that Plato's written dialogues were meant to 
appeal to the " educated " at large and interest them in philosophy ; 
the teaching given to Plato's personal associates depended for its 
due appreciation on the actual contact of mind with mind within 
the school and was therefore not committed to writing at all. As 
we shall see later on, this has had the (for us) unfortunate result 
that we are left to learn Plato's inmost ultimate convictions on the 
most important questions, the very thing we most want to know, 
from references in Aristotle, polemical in object, always brief, and 
often puzzling in the highest degree. 

When we turn to the contents of our manuscripts, the first 
problem which awaits us is that of weeding out from the whole 
collection what is dubious or certainly spurious. We may start 
with the fact that certain insignificant items of the collection were 
already recognized as spurious when the arrangement of the dialogues 
which we find in our oldest Plato MSS. was made. By counting 
each dialogue great or small as a unit, and reckoning the collection 
of Epistles also as one dialogue, a list of thirty-six works was drawn 
up, arranged in " tetralogies " or groups of four. It is not abso- 
lutely certain by whom or when this arrangement was made, though 
it certainly goes back almost to the beginning of the Christian era 
and perhaps earlier. It is commonly ascribed by later writers to 
a certain Thrasylus or to Thrasylus and Dercylides. The date of 


neither of these scholars is known with certainty. Thrasylus has 
been usually identified with a rhetorician of that name living under 
Augustus and Tiberius. But it is notable that Cicero's contem- 
porary, the antiquary M. Terentius Varro, refers l to a passage of 
the Phaedo as occurring in the " fourth roll " of Plato, and the 
Phaedo actually happens to be the fourth dialogue of the first 
" tetralogy. " Hence it has been suggested that the arrangement 
is older than Varro. If this is correct, it will follow that either 
Thrasylus has been wrongly identified or the arrangement was merely 
adopted, not originated, by him. On the other hand, this grouping 
cannot be earlier than the first or second century B.C. For Diogenes 
Laertius 2 informs us that an earlier arrangement of the dialogues in 
" trilogies " had been- attempted, though not carried completely 
through, by the famous third-century scholar Aristophanes of 
Byzantium. There is no hint anywhere that the " tetralogies " of 
Thrasylus admitted any work not regarded as Platonic by Aristo- 
phanes or excluded any which he had admitted. We may fairly 
conclude that the thirty-six " dialogues " were currently regarded as 
genuine by the librarians and scholars of the third century B.C. 
As far as the extant dialogues omitted from the " tetralogies " go, 
there is no question that they are one and all spurious, and no one 
proposes to reverse the judgment of antiquity on any of them. 
The same thing is true of the collection of " definitions " also 
preserved in Plato MSS. There is no doubt that in the main the 
definitions of the collection are genuinely ancient and Academic. 
Some of them are actually extracted from the Platonic dialogues ; 
others are shown to be Academic by their coincidence with Academic 
definitions used or commented on by Aristotle in his Topics. But 
since some of them can be pretty clearly identified with definitions 
we can prove to be characteristic of Plato's immediate successors, 
Speusippus and Xenocrates, we cannot regard the collection as the 
work of Plato. Our only real problem is whether the list of the 
thirty-six dialogues must not be further reduced by the elimination 
of spurious items. Even in antiquity there were doubts about one 
or two dialogues. The Alcibiades II 3 was thought to be unauthen- 
tic by some, and the Neoplatonist Proclus wished to reject the 
Epinomis. In modern times doubt has been carried much farther. 
In the middle of the nineteenth century, especially in Germany, the 
" athetizing " of Platonic dialogues became a fashionable amuse- 
ment for scholars ; the Laws was pronounced spurious by Ast and, 
at one time, by Zeller, the Parmenides, Sophistes, and Politicus by 
Ueberweg and others; extremists wished to limit the number of 
genuine dialogues to nine. Fortunately the tide has turned, since the 
elaborate proof of the genuineness of the Sophistes and Politicus 
by Lewis Campbell. There is now a general agreement that 
every dialogue of any length and interest in the list of the thirty- 

1 Varro, de lingua Latina, vii. 88. * D. L., iii. 61-62. 

Athenaeus (5060) records an opinion which ascribed the dialogue to 


six is Platonic, and an equally general agreement about the spurious- 
ness of a number of the smaller and less interesting, though there 
still remain one or two works about which opinion is divided. Thus 
there is little doubt of the un-Platonic character of the following 
works : Alcibiades II, Hipparchus, Amatores (or Rivales), Theages, 
Clitophon, Minos. Opinion may be said to be divided about Alci- 
biades I, Ion, Menexenus, Hippias Major, Epinomis, Epistles. 
The scope of the present work allows me only to make one or two 
very brief remarks on the subject. 

As to the now generally rejected dialogues it may be observed 
that they are all brief and of no great moment. Our conception 
of Plato as a thinker and a writer is not seriously affected by the 
rejection of any of them. If it were possible to put in a word on 
behalf of any of these items, I should like personally to plead for 
the short sketch called the Clitophon, which seems to be in any case 
a mere unfinished fragment, the main purport of which can only be 
conjectured. The style and verve are not unworthy of Plato, and 
I believe I could make out a case for the view that the point to which 
the writer is working up is also Platonic, as well as important. Yet 
there is the difficulty that the little work appears on the face of it 
to be in form a criticism of the parts played by Socrates and Thrasy- 
machus in Republic I, and it is hard to think of Plato as thus playing 
the critic to one of his own writings. 

About all these dialogues we may say at least two things. 
There is only one of them (the Alcibiades II) which does not seem 
to be proved by considerations of style and language to be real 
fourth-century work. And again, there is no reason to regard any 
of them as " spurious " in the sense of being intended to pass falsely 
for the work of Plato. They are anonymous and inferior work of 
the same kind as the lighter Platonic dialogues, and probably, in 
most cases, contemporary with them or nearly so, not deliberate 
" forgeries. 11 Hence this material may rightly be used with caution 
as contributing to our knowledge of the conception of Socrates 
current in the fourth century. Alcibiades II is probably an excep- 
tion. It is the one dialogue in the list which exhibits anything 
very suspicious on linguistic grounds, and it appears also to allude 
to a characteristic Stoic paradox. 1 But, even in this case, there is 
no ground to suppose that the unknown writer intended his work 
to pass current as Plato's. A little more must be said of the 
dialogues which are still rejected by some scholars, but defended 
by others. The Alcibiades I has nothing in its language which 
requires a date later than the death of Plato, and nothing in its 

1 There seems to be a definite polemic running through the dialogue 
against the Stoic thesis that every one but the Stoic " sage " is insane. Cf. 
in particular Ale. II, 1390-140^. (Personally I regard the attack on this 
paradox as the main object of the work.) Hence it cannot date from any 
period of the Academy before the presidency of Arcesilaus (276-241 B.C.), with 
whom anti-Stoic polemic became the main public interest of the school 
For a discussion of the question see Appendix, pp. 528-9, 


contents which is not thoroughly Platonic. In fact, it forms, as 
the Neoplatonic commentators saw, an excellent introduction to 
the whole Platonic ethical and political philosophy. It is just this 
character which is really the most suspicious thing about the 
dialogue. It is far too methodical not to suggest that it is meant 
as a kind of " textbook," the sort of thing Plato declared he would 
never write. And the character-drawing is far too vague and 
shadowy for Plato even in his latest and least dramatic phase. In 
the interlocutors, though they bear the names Socrates and Alci- 
biades, there is no trace of any genuine individuality far less than 
there is even in the anonymous speakers in the Laws. It is a 
further difficulty that on grounds of style and manner the dialogue, 
if genuine, would have to be assigned to a late period in Plato's life 
when he is hardly likely to have been composing such work. On 
the whole, it seems probable that Alcibiades I is the work of an 
immediate disciple, probably written within a generation or so of 
Plato's death and possibly even before that event. 

The Ion, so far as can be seen, has in its few pages nothing 
either to establish its authenticity or to arouse suspicion. It 
may reasonably be allowed to pass as genuine until some good 
reason for rejecting it is produced. 

The Menexenus offers a difficult problem. It is referred to 
expressly by Aristotle in a way in which he never seems to quote 
any dialogues but those of Plato, and it seems clear that he regarded 
it as Platonic. 1 On the other hand, the contents of the work are 
singular. It is mainly given up to the recital by Socrates of a 
" funeral discourse " on the Athenians who fell in the Corinthian 
war. Socrates pretends to have heard the discourse from Aspasia 
and to admire it greatly. Apparently the intention is to produce 
a gravely ironical satire on the curious jumble of real and spurious 
patriotism characteristic of the Xoyot cVira^tot, which are being 
quietly burlesqued. The standing mystery for commentators is, 
of course, the audacious anachronism by which Socrates (and, what 
is even worse, Aspasia) is made to give a narrative of events belonging 
to the years after Socrates 1 own death. To me it seems clear that 
this violation of chronological possibility, since it must have been 
committed at a time when the facts could not be unknown, must be 
intentional, however hard it is to divine its precise point, and that 
Plato is more likely than any disciple in the Academy to have 
ventured on it. (As the second part of the Parmenides proves, 
Plato had a certain " freakish " humour in him which could find 
strange outlets.) And I find it very hard to suppose that Aristotle 
was deceived on a question of Platonic authorship. Hence it seems 
best to accept the traditional ascription of the Menexenus, however 
hard we may think it to account for its character. 

The Hippias Major, though not cited by name anywhere in 
Aristotle, is tacitly quoted or alluded to several times in the Topics 
in a way which convinces me that Aristotle regarded it as a Platonic 
1 Aristot. Rhetoric, 14156 30. 


work. 1 As the " athetizers " have really nothing to urge on the other 
side except that the dialogue is not Plato at his best, and that there 
are an unusual word or two to be found in it (as there are in many 
Platonic dialogues), I think Aristotle's allusions should decide the 
question of genuineness favourably. 

The Epinomis and Epistles are much more important. If the 
Epinomis is spurious, we must deny the authenticity of the most 
important pronouncement on the philosophy of arithmetic to be 
found in the whole Platonic corpus. If the Epistles are spurious, 
we lose our one direct source of information for any part of Plato's 
biography, and also the source of most of our knowledge of Sicilian 
affairs from 367 to 354. (As E. Meyer says, the historians who reject 
the Epistles disguise the state of the case by alleging Plutarch's 
Life of Dion as their authority, while the statements in this Life 
are openly drawn for the most part from the Epistles.) Documents 
like these ought not to be surrendered to the " athetizer " except 
for very weighty reasons. 

As to the Epinomis the case stands thus. It was certainly known 
in antiquity generally and regarded as genuine. Cicero, for example, 
quotes it as " Plato." On the other hand, the Neoplatonic 
philosopher Proclus (410-485 A.D.) wished to reject it as spurious 
because of an astronomical discrepancy with the Timaeus. Dio- 
genes Laertius also tells us that Plato's Laws were " copied out from 
the wax " by the Academic astronomer Philippus of Opus, adding 
" and his too, as they say, is the Epinomis/' It has become common 
in recent times to assert, on the strength of this remark, that the 
Epinomis is an appendix to the Laws composed by Philippus. It 
ought, however, to be noted that Proclus was apparently unaware 
that any doubt had been felt about the Epinomis before his own time, 
since he based his rejection wholly on argument, not on testimony. 
His argument is, moreover, a bad one, since the " discrepancy with 
the Timaeus " of which he complained is found as much in the 
Laws as in the Epinomis. The internal evidence of style seems to 
reveal no difference whatever between the two works. And it 
may be urged that since the state of the text of the Laws shows that 
the work must have been left at Plato's death without the author's 
final revision and then circulated without even the small verbal 
corrections which the editor of a posthumous work commonly has to 
make in the interests of grammar, it is most unlikely that disciples who 
treated the ipsissima verba of a dead master with such scrupulous 
veneration would have ventured on adding a " part the last " to 
the work on their own account. Hence it seems to me that Hans 
Raeder is right in insisting on the genuineness of the Epinomis, 
and that the remark of Diogenes about Philippus of Opus only means 

1 Twice for the unsatisfactory definition of rd Ka\6v as r& irptirov (Topics, 
AS. IO2 6, 5. 1350 13) ; once for the still worse definition of Ka\6v as 
rb St fycw $ <Uor?s 7)86 (Topics, Z6. 1460 22). That both these bad attempts 
at definition occur in the dialogue seems to make it clear that Aristotle is 
alluding to it and not to any other source. 


that he did for this work was also transcribed by, or perhaps 
dictated to, him, (The now customary disparagement of the 
Epinomis seems to me due to mere inability to follow the mathe- 
matics of the dialogue. 1 ) 

Professor Werner Jaeger 2 has incidentally done a service to 
the student of the Epinomis in his recent work on the development 
of Aristotle's thought by showing that there is an intimate connexion 
between the Laws and Epinomis and Aristotle's work nepl <iAoo-o<ui$, 
of which only fragments are now extant. In particular, as he shows, 
there is an immediate connexion between the " fifth " or " etherial " 
bodily region of the Epinomis and Aristotle's famous " celestial 
matter " of which the " heavens " are assumed to be made (the 
essentia quinta or materia coelcslis). Professor Jaeger interprets the 
connexion thus. We have first the Laws circulated promptly after 
Plato's death, then Aristotle's proposals for modifications of Platonic 
doctrine in the TTC/K <iA.oo-o<tas, finally (all in the course of a year 
or two), the Epinomis, rejoining to Aristotle, and composed by 
Philippus. While I regard Professor Jaeger's proof of the intimate 
relation between Epinomis and ircpl <tAoo-o<ias as important, I 
think it more natural to interpret the facts rather differently by 
supposing the Laws and Epinomis together to have been tran- 
scribed and circulated shortly after the death of Plato, and then 
followed by Aristotle's criticism of Platonic doctrine in the -repl 
c^iAocro^tW This at least leaves Aristotle more leisure than Professor 
Jaeger's hypothesis for the composition of a work which, as we 
know it ran to three " books," must have been of considerable 
compass. Whatever the truth about the Epinomis may be, I am 
at least sure that it is premature to assume that it is known not to 
be Plato's. 

As for the Epistles, it is not necessary now to argue the case for 
their genuineness as elaborately as one would have had to do some 
years ago. Since Wilamowitz in his Platon declared for the genuine- 
ness of the very important trio VI, VII, VIII, those who depend on 
11 authority " for their opinions have been in a hurry to protest 
that these three at least must be accepted. But the acceptance of 
the three logically carries with it recognition of the correspondence 
between Plato and Dionysius (II, III, XIII) and the letter of con- 
gratulation and good advice to Dion (IV) ; and when these are 
accepted as Platonic, there remains no good ground for rejecting 
any of the thirteen letters of our MSS. except the first, which is 
written in a style wholly unlike the others, and by some one 
whose circumstances, as stated by himself, show that he can be 
neither Plato nor Dion, nor have any intention of passing for either. 
Presumably this letter got into the correspondence by some mistake 
at a very early date. The twelfth letter (a mere note of half a 
dozen lines) was apparently suspected in later antiquity, since our 

1 For a good recent defence of the dialogue see the discussion in H. Raeder, 
Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 413 ff. and cf. infra, pp. 497-8. 
* Jaeger, Aristoteles, c. 3. 


best MSS. have a note to that effect. No grounds have ever been 
produced for questioning the authenticity of any of the rest which 
will bear examination. Most of the difficulties raised in modern 
times, especially those alleged in connexion with II and XIII, 
rest on mere misunderstandings. It is safe to say that the present 
tendency to accept only VI, VII, VIII is a consequence of mere 
servile deference to the name of Wilamowitz. None of these 
documents should have needed the imprimatur of a professor as a 
recommendation ; their acceptance is bound to lead logically to 
that of the rest with the exception of I and possibly XII. As far 
as external testimony goes, it is enough to say that Aristophanes 
of Byzantium included in his " trilogies " Epistles (pretty obviously 
our thirteen, or we should have heard more about the matter), and 
that Cicero quotes IV, IX, and especially VII (nobilissima ilia 
epistula, as he calls it) as familiar Platonic material. This, taken 
together with the thoroughly Platonic style of the letters, disposes 
of the notion that they can be " forgeries/ 1 The art of writing 
such prose was already dead in half a century after Plato's death, 
and the revival of " Atticism/ 1 which might make such a production 
barely conceivable, belongs to a time some generations later than 
Cicero. 1 


To understand a great thinker is, of course, impossible unless 
we know something of the relative order of his works, and of the 
actual period of his life to which they belong. What, for example, 
could we make of Kant if we did not know whether the Critique of 
Pure Reason was the work of ambitious youth or of ripe middle age, 
whether it was written before or after the discourse on the Only Pos- 
sible Demonstration of the Being of a God or the Dreams of a Ghost-seer ? 
We cannot, then, even make a beginning with the study of Plato 
until we have found some trustworthy indication of the order in 
which his works, or at least the most significant of them, were 
written. Even when we have fixed this order, if it can be fixed, we 
need, for a completer understanding, to be able also to say at what 
precise period of life the most important dialogues were written, 

1 The reader will find an elaborate collection of linguistic and other 
arguments against the Epistles in the section devoted to them in H. Richards' 
Platonica, 254-298, and, as regards most of the series, in C. Ritter, Neue Unter- 
suchungen uebev Platon, 327-424. Most of the alleged objections appear 
frivolous, or at best based on misreading of the Syracusan situation. Why 
the German critics in general think that it is in some way " unworthy " of Plato 
to have had a " business settlement" with Dionysius such as that to which 
Ep. xiii. relates is to me as unintelligible as Wilamowitz's assertion that the 
statements of the same letter about the great age of Plato's mother and the 
existence of four nieces for whom he may have to provide must be fiction. 
Old ladies do sometimes live to over ninety, and any man of sixty may quite 
well have four nieces. The names of Bentley, Cobet, Crote, Blass, E. Meyer, 
are enough to show that there is plenty of good " authority " for belief in the 
Epistles. See Appendix, pp. 541-544, for further discussion. 


whether in early'manhood, injmid life, or in old age, and again whether 
they are an unbroken series of compositions or whether there is 
evidence of a considerable gap or gaps in Plato's literary activity. 
These are the questions which we have now to face. 

The external evidence supplied by trustworthy testimony only 
assures us on one point. Aristotle tells us (Pol. 12646 26), what 
could in any case never have been doubted, that the Laws is later than 
the Republic. There was also an ancient tradition, mentioned by 
Proclus and implied in the statement of Diogenes Laertius about 
Philippus of Opus, that the Laws was left by Plato " in the wax/' 
and the " fair copy " for circulation made after his death. The 
statement is borne out by the frequency in the dialogue of small 
grammatical difficulties which cannot reasonably be ascribed to 
later " corruption/' but are natural in a faithfully copied first text 
which has never received the author's finishing touches. Trust- 
worthy testimony takes us no farther than this. Comparison 
of certain Platonic dialogues with one another yields one or two 
other results. Thus the Republic must be earlier than the Timaeus, 
where it is referred to and the argument of its first five books briefly 
recapitulated. The Politicus must be not earlier than the Sophistes, 
to which it is the professed sequel ; and the Sophistes, for the same 
reason, later than the Theaetetus. These are all the certain indica- 
tions furnished by the matter of the dialogues themselves. There 
may be an allusion in the Phaedo to a point more fully explained in 
the Meno, and the Republic has been supposed to allude to both. 
Both the Theaetetus and the Sophistes refer to a meeting between 
Socrates, then extremely young, and the great Parmenides ; and 
there must be some connexion between these references and the 
fact that the Parmenides professes ostensibly to describe this 
encounter. But we cannot say that the allusions enable us to 
determine with certainty whether the Parmenides is earlier than 
both the others, later than both, or intermediate between the two. 
Raeder has tried to show at length that the Phaedrus contains 
allusions which would only be intelligible to readers who already 
knew the Republic] but there are gaps in his argument, and it 
has not completely convinced some prominent Platonic scholars. 
Clearly, if we are to arrive at results of any value, we need a clue 
to the order of composition of the dialogues which will take us 
much farther than the few certain indications we have so far found. 

In the earlier part of the nineteenth century more than one 
unsatisfactory attempt was made to provide such a clue. Thus 
it was at one time held that we can detect signs of comparative 
youth in the gorgeous rhetoric of certain dialogues, and the Phaedrus 
in particular was often assumed to be the earliest of the dialogues 
on this ground. But it is obvious that reasoning of this kind is 
inherently untrustworthy, especially in dealing with the work of a 
great dramatic artist. Inferences from the manner of the Phaedrus 
are, for example, to be discounted partly on the ground that its 
rhetoric is largely parody of the rhetoricians, partly because so 


much of its content is imaginative myth which lends itself naturally 
to a high-flown diction. The assumption that works in which there 
is a large element of semi-poetical myth must be "juvenile " obviously 
rests on another assumption, for which we have no evidence at all, 
that we know independently what the personal temperament of the 
youthful Plato was. We have only to think of the known chrono- 
logical order of the works of Goethe to see how unsound a method 
must be which would require us to regard the second part of Faust 
or Wilhelm Meisters W under jahre as juvenile productions. A 
still more arbitrary assumption underlies the attempt of E. Munk 
to arrange the dialogues in order on the assumption that the age 
ascribed to Socrates in a dialogue is an indication of its date. On 
the theory that dialogues which represent Socrates as a young man 
must be early, those which represent him as old, late, we should 
have to put the Parmenides, where Socrates is " very young/' at the 
opening of the series, the Theaetetus, which narrates a conversation 
held just before his trial, at the other end, though the allusion in 
the one dialogue to the meeting which provides the setting for the 
other shows that they are probably not to be separated by too long 
an interval. 

The serious scientific investigation of the internal evidence for 
the order of composition of the dialogues really begins in 1867 with 
Lewis Campbell's philological proof of the genuineness of the 
Sophistes and PolMcus. It has been further developed, sometimes 
with too much confidence in its results, by a whole host of writers, 
notably Dittenberger and C. Ritter in Germany, and W. Lutoslawski 
in this country. The underlying and sound principle of the method 
may be simply stated thus. If we start with two works which are 
known to be separated by a considerable interval and exhibit a 
marked difference in style, it may be possible to trace the transition 
from the writer's earlier to his later manner in detail, to see the 
later manner steadily more and more replacing the earlier, and this 
should enable us to arrive at some definite conclusions about the 
order of the works which occupy the interval. The conclusion will 
be strengthened if we take for study a number of distinct and inde- 
pendent peculiarities and find a general coincidence in the order in 
which the various peculiarities seem to become more and more 
settled mannerisms. The opportunity for applying this method to 
the work of Plato is afforded by the well-authenticated fact that the 
Laws is a composition of old age, while the Republic is one of an 
earlier period, and forms with certain other great dialogues, such as 
the Protagoras, Phaedo, Symposium, a group distinguished by a 
marked common style and a common vigour of dramatic representa- 
tion which experience shows we cannot expect from a writer who is 
not in the prime of his powers. Growing resemblance to the manner 
of the Laws, if made out on several independent but consilient lines 
of inquiry, may thus enable us to discover which of the Platonic 
dialogues must be intermediate between the Laws and the Republic. 
There are several different peculiarities we may obviously select for 


study. Thus one obvious contrast between Republic and Laws is 
to be found in the marked decline of dramatic power. A second is 
that the Laws conforms carefully to a whole number of the graces of 
style introduced into Attic prose by Isocrates, the Republic and the 
other great dramatic dialogues neglect these elegancies. A third 
line of study which has been very minutely pursued, especially by 
Lutoslawski, is the examination of special uses of connecting 
particles throughout the dialogues. Without going into detail, it 
is enough to say here that the result of these converging lines of 
study has been to convince students of Platonic language and idiom, 
almost without an exception, that we can definitely specify a 
certain group of very important dialogues as belonging to the post- 
Republic period of Plato's life. The group comprises Theaetetus, 
Parmenides, Sophistes, Politicus, Timaetis, Philebus, Laws. The 
identification of this group of " later " dialogues may be taken as a 
pretty assured and definite result, not likely ever to be seriously 

It is another question whether the employment of the same 
method would enable us to distinguish more precisely between the 
earlier and later dialogues belonging to either of the two great groups, 
so as to say, e.g., whether the Philebus is earlier or later in composi- 
tion than the Timaeus, the Symposium than the Phaedo. When two 
works belong to much the same period of an author's activity, a 
slight difference of style between them may easily be due to acci- 
dental causes. (Thus in dealing with the Symposium we should 
have to remember that a very large part of it is professed imitation 
or parody of the styles of others.) Lutoslawski in particular seems 
to me to have pushed a sound principle to the pitch of absurdity in 
the attempt, by the help of the integral calculus, to extract from 
considerations of " stylometry " a detailed and definite order of 
composition for the whole of the dialogues. It may fairly be 
doubted whether " stylometric " evidence can carry us much beyond 
the broad discrimination between an earlier series of dialogues of 
which the Republic is the capital work and a later series composed 
in the interval between the completion of the Republic and Plato's 

It is possible, however, that some supplementary considerations 
may take us a little further. Plato himself explains, in the intro- 
ductory conversation prefixed to the Theaetetus, that he has avoided 
the method of indirect narration of a dialogue for that of direct 
dialogue in order to avoid the wearisomencss of keeping up the 
formula of a reported narrative. Now the greatest dialogues of 
the earlier period, the Protagoras, Symposium, Phaedo, Republic, 
are all reported dialogues, and one of them, the Symposium, is 
actually reported at second-hand. So again is the Parmenides, 
where the standing formula, as Professor Burnet calls it, is the 
cumbrous " Antiphon told us that Pythodorus said that Parmenides 
said. 11 The original adoption of this method of narration of a con- 
versation is manifestly due to the desire for dramatic life and colour. 


It permits of the sort of record of the by-play between the personages 
of the story which contributes so much to the charm of the Phaedo. 
But the labour required to keep up the " formula " is so great that 
it is not surprising that Plato finally dropped it, and that the 
Theaetetm and all the works we find reason to place later are in the 
form of direct dialogue. To me it seems highly probable, though 
not certain, that it was the special complication of the formula 
required for the Parmenides which led to the final abandonment of 
the method, and that we may plausibly infer that the Parmenides 
was written either simultaneously with the Theaetetus or immedi- 
ately before it. Another inference which I should draw with some 
confidence is that, since no young writer is likely to have made his 
first prentice experiments in .dialogue with so difficult a form, the 
popular view that the Protagoras is one of the earliest of the Platonic 
dialogues must be erroneous. The certainty and vigour of the 
dramatic handling of the characters there should prove that the 
Protagoras belongs as a fourth with the Phaedo, Symposium, and 
Republic to the period of Plato's supreme excellence as a dramatist 
and stylist. In particular, it must be a considerably later work 
than the comparatively undramatic and rather unduly diffuse 
Gorgias, a point which has some bearing on the interpretation of the 
purpose and ethical teaching of the Protagoras. 

We may turn next to the question whether it is possible to fix 
any definite date in Plato's life as a terminus ad quern for the earlier 
series of dialogues, or a terminus a quo for the later. Something, I 
believe, may be done to settle both these questions. I have already 
referred in the last chapter to the statement made by Plato in 
Ep. vii., written after the murder of Dion in the year 354, that he 
came to Sicily in his forty-first year already convinced that the 
salvation of mankind depends on the union of the philosopher and 
the " ruler " in one person. The actual words of the letter are that 
Plato had been driven to say this " in a eulogy on true philosophy/' 
and this seems an unmistakable allusion to the occurrence of the 
same statement in Rep. 499 ff. It should follow that this most philo- 
sophically advanced section of the Republic was already written in 
the year 388-7, with the consequence that the Republic, and by 
consequence the earlier dialogues in general, were completed at least 
soon after Plato was forty and perhaps before foundation of the 
Academy. If we turn next to the dialogue which seems to prelude 
to the later group, the Theaetetus, we get another indication of date. 
The dialogue mentions the severe and dangerous wound received by 
the mathematician Theaetetus in a battle fought under the walls of 
Corinth which cannot well be any but that of the year 369. It is 
assumed tacitly all through that Theaetetus will not recover from 
his injuries and is clear that the discourse was composed after his 
death and mainly as a graceful tribute to his memory. Thus, 
allowing for the time necessary for the completion of so considerable 
a work, we may suppose the dialogue to have been written just 
before Plato's first departure on his important practical enterprise 


at Syracuse. This, as Professor Burnet has said, seems to be the 
explanation of the magnificent eulogy of the retired and contem- 
plative life, a passage confessed by Plato himself to be an irrele- 
vance so far as the argument of the dialogue is concerned. Plato 
is giving expression to the reluctance with which he leaves the 
Academy, at the bidding of duty and honour, for the turmoil and 
sordidness of the political arena. 

Once more, the Sophistes seems to give us an approximate date. 
It is the first of the series of dialogues in which the deliberate 
adoption of the Isocratean avoidance of hiatus occurs. This would 
naturally suggest a probable break of some length in Plato's activity 
as a writer just before the composition of the Sophistes. Now it is 
antecedently probable that there must have been such an inter- 
ruption between 367 and 360, the year of Plato's last return from 
Syracuse. His entanglements with Dionysius and Sicilian affairs, 
combined with his duties as head of the Academy, are likely to have 
left him little leisure for literary occupation in these years. 

Thus we may say with every appearance of probability that 
there are two distinct periods of literary activity to be distinguished 
in Plato's life. The first cannot have begun before the death of 
Socrates ; apart from the absurdity of the conception of Plato as 
" dramatizing " the sayings and doings of the living man whom he 
revered above all others, it is fairly plain that the original motive 
for the composition of " discourses of Socrates " by the viri Socratici 
was to preserve the memory of a living presence which they had lost. 
It apparently continued down to Plato's fortieth or forty-first 
year and the opening of the Academy, and it includes all the work 
in which Plato's dramatic art is most fresh and vigorous. The main 
object of this incessant activity seems to be to immortalize the 
personality of Socrates. For twenty years after the foundation of 
the Academy Plato seems to have written nothing, unless the 
Phaedrus, a difficult dialogue to account for on any theory, falls 
early in this period. This is as it should be : the President of the 
Academy would for long enough after its foundation be far too busy 
to write. Then, probably on the eve of the Sicilian adventure, after 
twenty years of work the Academy is sufficiently organized to 
leave its head, now a man of some sixty years, leisure to write the 
Theaetetus and Parmenides; but an opportunity for continuous 
writing does not present itself until Plato's final withdrawal from 
active personal participation in " world politics." The composition 
of five such works as Sophistes, Politicus, Timaeus, Philebus, Laws, 
is a notable achievement for any man between the ages of sixty- 
seven and eighty-one. But we must think of this work as being 
executed simultaneously with regular oral exposition of the doctrine 
described by Aristotle as the " philosophy of Plato." It is an 
entire misconception to relegate this last stage in the development 
of Plato's thought, as the textbooks often seem to do, to a " senile " 
year or two subsequent to the close of Plato's activity as a writer. 
It must have been contemporary with the writing of the whole 


" later " group of dialogues, and the man who was still at his death 
labouring on the Laws can never have sunk into " senility.' 1 

See further : 

BURNET, J. Platonism, Ch. i, 4. 

CAMPBELL, L. " Sophistes " and " Politicus " of Plato (1867), 

General Introduction. 
HACKFORTH, R. The Authorship of the Platonic Epistles, 

(Manchester, 1913.) 
RAEDER, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung. (Leipzig, 


LUTOSLAWSKI, W. Origin and Growth of Plato's Logic. (1897.) 
PARMENTIER, L. La Chronologie des dialogues de Platon. 

(Brussels, 1913.) 
RITTER, C. Untersuchungen ueber Platon. (Stuttgart, 1882.) ; 

Neue Untersuchungen ueber Platon. (Munich, 1910.) 
LEVI, A. Sulle interpretazioni immanentistiche della filosofia di 

Platone. (Turin, N.D.) 

SHOREY, P. The Unity of Plato's Thought. (Chicago, 1903.) 
SHOREY, P. What Plato Said, pp. 58-73. 
ROBIN, L. Platon, pp. 19-48. 
NOVOTNY", F. Platonis Epistulae. 
HARWARD, J. The Platonic Epistles (Introduction). 

NOTE. I do not deny that Plato's" first period " may have extended 
into the opening years of his career in the Academy. On my own 
reasoning this must be so if the Phaedo should, after all, be later than 
the Republic. It has been argued (e.g. by M. Parmentier) that the 
Symposium must be later than 385, the year of the death of Aristo- 
phanes. I doubt, however, whether too much has not been made of 
the supposed Platonic rule not to introduce living persons as speakers. 
Callias was alive and active years after any date to which we can 
reasonably assign the Protagoras. Euclides, who was alive and appar- 
ently well when Theaetetus received his wound, is more likely than 
not to have survived the writing of the Theaetetus. Socrates " the 
younger " can hardly be taken to have been dead when the Politicus 
was written. Gorgias may have lived long enough to read the Gorgias. 
Simmias, if we may believe Plutarch de genio Socratis, was alive and 
active in 379. That the majority of Plato's personages are characters 
already dead when his dialogues were written, seems to me a mere 
consequence of the fact that the dialogues deal with Socrates and his 
contemporaries . 

[It might be urged against the reasoning of the first paragraph of 
p. 20 supra that several, if not all, of the dialogues of Aeschines (cer- 
tainly the Aspasia, Alcibiades t Callias, Axiochus) were of the " nar- 
rated " type. But they were narrations of the simplest kind of which 
the Charmides and Laches are examples, and such evidence as we have 
suggests that they are all later in date of composition than the earliest 
work of Plato.] 



LOVERS of great literature have every reason to be whole- 
heartedly thankful that once in the world's history a supreme 
philosophical thinker should also have been a superb dramatic 
artist. But what is to them pure gain is, in some ways, gain at the 
expense of the average student of " metaphysics." For several 
reasons it is quite impossible to construct a neatly arranged syste- 
matic handbook to the " Platonic philosophy." In the first place, 
it is doubtful whether there ever was a " Platonic philosophy " at 
all, in the sense of a definite set of formulated doctrines about the 
omne scibV.e. Plato has done his best to make it quite clear that he 
took no great interest in " system-making." To him philosophy 
meant no compact body of " results " to be learned, but a life spent 
in the active personal pursuit of truth and goodness by the light of 
one or two great passionate convictions. It is not likely that, even 
at the end of his life of eighty years, he fancied himself to have 
worked out anything like a coherent, clearly articulated " theory of 
everything." Systematization of this kind commonly has to be 
paid for by intellectual stagnation ; the vitality and progressiveness 
of Platonism is probably largely owing to the fact that, even in the 
mind of its originator, it always remained largely tentative and 
provisional. If there ever was a Platonic " system," at least Plato 
himself resolutely refused to write an exposition of it, 1 and we of 
later times, who do not possess any record of the oral teaching 
which was clearly intended to be the vehicle of Plato's most personal 
and intimate thinking, are not in a position to make the lack good. 
The dialogues will tell us something of Plato's fundamental life- 

1 Ep. vii. 34 ic : " There does not exist, and there never shall, any treatise 
by myself on these matters. The subject does not admit, as the sciences in 
general do, of exposition. It is only after long association in the great 
business itself and a shared life that a light breaks out in the soul, kindled, so 
to say, by a leaping flame, and thereafter feeds itself." Ep. ii. 314^: "I have 
never myself written a word on these topics, and there neither is nor ever 
shall be any treatise by Plato ; what now bears the name belongs to Socrates 
beautified and rejuvenated." That is, all that a teacher can do in philosophy 
is to awaken in a younger mind the spirit of independent personal thinking ; 
the dialogues are meant not to expound a " Platonic system," but to preserve 
the memory of Socrates. One of Plato's grounds for dissatisfaction with 
Dionysius II was that he had circulated a work professing to expound " Platon- 
ism " (Ep. vii. 3416). 


long convictions ; of his " system/' if he had one, they hardly tell 
us anything at all. With Aristotle we are in a very different posi- 
tion. We have lost the " works " in which he recommended his 
" views " to the world at large, and possess the manuscripts of 
courses of lectures in which we see him, for the most part, feeling his 
way to his results through the criticism of others. 

Further special difficulties are created for us by certain peculiar- 
ities of Plato's literary temperament. Unlike Aristotle, he does not 
introducejiimself and Msjopinions into his dialogues.__. Hgjs^-in-f act , 
at .S^JL^P 3 -^ 1 -?' w **h thelnstinct of the greaQramatist, to keep his 
own^ersonality comp^tel^jCES^^ckgrourid. Socrates isjpresent 
asTone'of thFspeakers in affThe dialogues except the Laws, and in all 
exceptrth^^wKi^"^Tiave seen reaso'nToTegafd as written in late 
life, Socrates is not only the chief speaker but dominates the whole 
dialogue by his vivid and strongly marked personality. It can 
hardly be doubted that in the long list of works written before Plato 
had found his real vocation as head of the Academy, the main 
conscious object of the writer is to preserve a faithful and living 
portrait of the older philosopher. 

Even if we accept the view originated about the beginning of 
the nineteenth century, that Plato has transfigured the personality 
and teaching of Socrates out of recognition, we are bound, I think, 
to hold that the transfiguration has been unconscious. We cannot 
seriously ascribe to Plato deliberate and pointless mystification. 
This means, of itself, that Plato carefully devotes himself to re- 
producing the life and thought of a generation to which he did not 
himself belong, and that whatever indications he may have given 
us of his personal doctrines have to be given under restrictions im- 
posed by this selection of a vanished age as the background of the 
dialogues. (Thus we cannot read the Republic intelligently unless 
we bear carefully in' mind both that the whole work presupposes 
as its setting the Athens of the Archidamian war and that this 
setting had vanished into the past by 413, when Plato was still no 
more than a boy. So to understand the Protagoras we have to 
remember that we are dealing with a still earlier time, Athens under 
Pericles shortly before the outbreak of the great war, and that 
Plato was not even born at the date of the gathering of the " wits " 
in the house of Callias.) There are only two characters among 
the host of personages in Plato's dialogues of whom one can be cer- 
tain that they are not actual historical figures of the fifth century, 
the unnamed Eleatic of the Sophistes and Politicks and the un- 
named Athenian of the Laws. They have been left anonymous 
apparently on purpose that their creator may be at liberty to 
express thoughts of his own through them with a freedom impossible 
in the case of figures who are " kennt men/ 1 with characters and 
views of their own which have to be taken into account. 

This is generally admitted on all hands except for the one most 
important figure of all, that of Socrates. Him, it is still maintained 
in many quarters, though not so confidently as it used to be main- 


tained thirty or forty years ago, Plato treated without scruple, to 
the point of putting into his mouth all sorts of theories invented by 
Plato himself after the death of their ostensible exponent. I cannot 
myself believe in this extraordinary exception to the general rule, 
but even if one does believe in it, the general situation is not very 
seriously affected. Even those who most freely credit Plato with 
fathering his own views on Socrates commonly admit that some of 
the views ascribed to Socrates in the dialogues (if only those ex- 
pressed in the Apology) are those of the actual Socrates, and to 
admit this means admitting at least that we have somehow to 
distinguish between those utterances of " Socrates " which are 
really deliverances of " Plato " and those which are not, and it 
becomes a difficult problem to know on what principle the distinction 
is to be made. Finally, there is a further difficulty arising from the 
very life-likeness of the dialogues of the earlier groups. In nearly 
all of them except the shortest, the conversation wanders, as actual 
talk does, over a wide field of topics. Metaphysics, ethics, the 
principles of government, of economics, of art-criticism, of education, 
may all come under consideration in one and the same conversation. 
If we try to isolate the topics, putting together under one head all 
Plato has to say anywhere about economics, under another all his 
utterances about religion, under a third his views on beauty and the 
arts, we run the very serious risk of confusing what may be views 
learned early in life, and very largely taken over receptively from a 
predecessor, with the very ripest fruits of a life of intense personal 
thought. (Thus it would be rash to confound in one amalgam 
utterances about early education taken from the Republic, written 
probably before Plato was forty and at any rate possibly more 
Socratic than Platonic, with others taken from the Laws, the 
magnum opus of Plato's old age, where there is no Socrates in 
question to cause any difficulty.) A work on Platonic philosophy 
composed on these principles may be an admirably digested " cram- 
book " ; it is certain to obliterate every trace of the development of 
Plato's thought. For all these reasons, it seems the better choice 
between evils, to deal with the different dialogues seriatim, even at 
the cost of some repetition. 

Accordingly I propose first to consider what we may call the 
" Socratic " group among the dialogues, the series of works cul- 
minating, so far as ripeness of thought and compass of subjects are 
concealed, in the Republic, grouping the slighter dialogues together 
but dwelling more fully on the detail of the greater and richer. 
Next I propose to treat separately each of the great dialogues of 
Plato's later age in the same way. In both cases I must remind 
my reader that I do not believe that many results of anything like 
certainty can be reached in the determination of the precise order 
of composition of particular dialogues. In the case of the earlier 
group, which I call Socratic in the sense that they are dominated by 
the personality of Plato's Socrates, I make no assumption about 
this order beyond the general one that the four great dialogues which 


have the widest range of subject-matter and are also reported at 
second-hand are maturer work than the slighter dialogues which 
have the form of direct conversation, and presumably also than 
shorter " indirect " conversations like the Charmides and Euthydemus. 
Beyond this, the order in which I shall examine the dialogues has 
no merit except that of convenience. Similarly the arrangement 
I shall adopt for the dialogues of later life is not meant to carry any 
silent chronological implications. 

With one or two trifling exceptions most of the dialogues we 
shall have first to review have an ethical purport. (Perhaps the 
only complete exception of any importance is afforded by the 
Cratyhis.) The interest of many of them is by no means exclusively 
ethical, sometimes (as in the case of the Euthydemus) not ostensibly 
primarily ethical, but we commonly find that the discussion either 
begins with, or is found as it proceeds to involve, the great practical 
issue of the right direction of conduct. It is therefore advisable to 
begin at the outset by formulating very briefly and in a way which 
brings out their interconnexion, a few simple principles which we 
shall find running through the whole of Plato's treatment of the 
moral being of man. Since we find these principles taken for granted 
in what has every mark of being Plato's earliest work as well as in 
his ripest and latest, we may fairly regard them as a legacy from 
Socrates ; and the most characteristic of them are, in fact, specific- 
ally attributed to Socrates by Aristotle, though we have no reason 
to suppose that Aristotle had any reason for the attribution beyond 
the fact that the principles in question are put into the mouth of 
Socrates in the Platonic dialogues, notably in the Protagoras. The 
most bald and straightforward statement of these principles as a 
whole in the Platonic corpus is perhaps that of the Alctbiades I, 
which has every appearance of being intended as a compendium of 
ethics composed by an immediate disciple and possibly during 
Plato's lifetime. We may reproduce the main line of argument 
adopted there and elsewhere much as follows. 

The one great standing aim of men in all they do is to attain 
happiness (eudaimonia), in other words to make a success, in the 
best sense of the word, of life. Every one wants to make a success 
of his private life ; if a man is conscious of abilities and opportunities 
which open the way to prominence as a public man, he is anxious to 
make a success of the affairs of his " city," to be a successful states- 
man. This is what we mean by being a good man ; the good man is 
the man who " conducts his own affairs, those of his household, those 
of the city, well." And the words good and well are not used here in 
a narrowly moralistic sense. To conduct your business well means 
to make a thorough success of it ; the good man is the thoroughly 
effective man. But to make a thorough success of life means to 
achieve and possess good. We may say then that all men alike 
desire good and nothing but good. A man may conceivably prefer 
the appearance or reputation of some things to their reality ; e.g. 
a man may prefer a reputation for a virtue he does not possess to 


the possession of the virtue, or he might prefer being thought hand- 
some or witty to being really so. But no one ever prefers being 
thought to enjoy good to the actual enjoyment of good. Where 
good is concerned, every one wishes really to have it, and not to 
put up with a counterfeit. If a man chooses, as many men do, 
what is not really good, the reason must be that he wrongly supposes 
it to be good. No one would ever knowingly choose evil when he 
might choose good, or leave a good he might have had unchosen. 
This is the meaning of the famous " Socratic " paradox that " all 
wrongdoing is involuntary." It is involuntary in the sense that the 
man who chooses what is bad only chooses it because he wrongly 
thinks it good. And so with the other " paradox " that no one ever 
knows the good without acting on his knowledge. It cannot be 
true that men " know the good but do the bad " ; that would imply 
choice of an evil known to be evil, and such a choice is impossible. 
Now when we come to consider the different things which men 
commonly call " good " and wish to have, we see at once that they 
are of various kinds. Some of them are material possessions. 
Many men think that good means just plenty of things of this sort. 
But we can easily see that material things are not good except for a 
man who knows how to use them. It would be no good to a man, 
for example, to have flutes, or musical instruments of any kind, 
unless he knew how to use them. Flutes are good for the man who 
knows how to play on them. Similarly it would be no real good to 
you to possess all the gold in the world, unless you know how to use 
it. Again, men think that bodily beauty, strength and agility, 
robust health, are very good things. But health and strength 
again may be misused ; they are good only for the man who knows 
how to make the proper use of them. If a man has not this know- 
ledge, but " abuses " his physical advantages, it might be much 
better for him if he had been less robust and active. The same thing 
is true of intellectual " parts/' A man is not really the better for 
parts and accomplishments which he does not know how to use 
rightly. In fact we may say that if health, wealth, and the recog- 
nized " good " things are to be really good, it is first of all necessary 
that the user of these things should be good. Now that which uses 
all other things, even a man's body, is his soul. The soul is the 
man, and everything else that is his is merely something he has or 
owns. A man, in fact, is a " soul using a body " (this is the standing 
Academic definition of " man "). 1 Hence the first condition of 
enjoying real good and making a real success of life is that a man's 
soul should be in a good or healthy state. And the good or healthy 
state of the soul is ]ust the wisdom or knowledge (sophia, phronesis) 
which ensures that a man shall make the right use of his body and 
of everything else which is his. Hence the first duty of every man 
who means to enjoy good or happiness is to " tend his soul," " to 

i For this reasoning see Ale. I uga-i^d. Euthydemus, 278^-282^, 288**- 
292*. For the soul as the real " man " which " uses " the body see Ale. I 


see to it that his soul is as good as it possibly can be," that is, to get 
the knowledge or insight which ensures his using everything rightly. 
And before a man can develop this quality of soul, he must be 
brought to " know himself," that is, to recognize the imperative 
need of moral wisdom and the dreadfulness of his present state of 
ignorance. 1 This is why Socrates taught that " all the virtues are 
one thing," wisdom or moral insight, and why he insisted that the 
necessary preparation for the private man or the statesman who 
means to make life a success is the " tendance of his own soul/ 1 
and the first step towards this " tendance " is true self-knowledge. 
The same considerations explain the peculiar character of the mission 
Socrates believes himself to have received from heaven. He does 
not claim, like the professional teacher of an " art " such as 
medicine or music, to have ready-made knowledge to impart to 
anyone, and hence he denies that he has ever had " disciples." 
For he does not profess to have attained the wisdom or insight of 
which he speaks, but only to have attained to the perception that it 
is the one thing needful for the conduct of life. He claims only that 
he makes it the business of his life to " tend his own soul " and 
exhorts all his fellow-citizens, high and low, old and young, to do 
the same, and that he has a certain power of bringing home to others 
by his questions the grossness and danger of their ignorance of them- 
selves. His function is simply to impress on all and sundry the 
misery of the state of ignorance in which they find themselves " by 
nature " and the importance of " coming out of it." How a man is 
to come out of this state of nature is not explained anywhere, 2 but 
in proportion as he does come out of it and advance to true insight, 
true knowledge of moral good and evil, all the different " virtues " 
or excellences of character and conduct will automatically ensue 
from this knowledge. 

These fundamental elementary notions will suffice to explain 
the general character of most of the earliest " Socratic " dialogues. 
The procedure adopted is commonly this. Some term of moral 
import for the conduct of life, one of those words which everybody 
is using as familiar expressions daily without much consideration of 
their precise meaning, such as " courage," " self-mastery," or even 
" virtue " itself, is taken and we ask the question whether we can 
say exactly what it means. A number of answers are suggested and 
examined, but all are found wanting. None of them will stand 
careful scrutiny. Usually the result arrived at is a negative one. 
We discover to our shame that we do not really know the meaning 
of the most familiar epithets which we use every day of our lives to 
convey moral approval or censure. This revelation of our own 
ignorance is painful, but it has the advantage that we have taken a 

1 This is the message with which Socrates regarded himself as charged by 
God to his fellow-citizens and mankind in general (Apol. zgd-e, 360, 41$). 

1 Naturally not. An answer to this question would raise the issues 
covered in Christian theology by the doctrine of " grace." We must not look 
for an anticipation of Augustine in Hellenic moral philosophy. 


step forward. At any rate, our knowledge of our own ignorance 
will henceforth prevent our fancying that we really knew when we 
were repeating some of the formulae which our inquiry has con- 
demned. Now that we know that we do not know what it is so 
necessary for the conduct of life to know, we are at least left with 
a heightened sense of the importance of " tendance of the soul " ; 
we shall not, like the rest of mankind, suppose ourselves to be in 
spiritual health when we are really inwardly diseased ; our very 
knowledge of the gravity of our spiritual malady will make us all 
the more unremitting in our determination to make the attempt 
to escape from our ignorance the great business of life. This, 
rather than anything more specific in the way of " positive results," 
is the conclusion Plato means us to draw from these " dialogues of 
search/' It has been objected to Plato by unsympathetic critics, 
as he makes some of his characters object it to Socrates, that such 
a conclusion is not satisfactory. Socrates, Grote thinks, should 
have exchanged the easier part of critic for that of defender of theses 
of his own. He would have found that they could be subjected to a 
dialectic like his own with effects as damaging as those produced on 
his rivals 1 theories by himself. The objection misses the mark. 
Plato's object is not to propound theorems in moral science for our 
instruction, but to rouse us to give our own personal care to the 
conduct of our moral life by convincing us of the ignorance we 
usually disguise from ourselves by acquiescence in uncriticized half- 
truths and the practical gravity of that ignorance. He wishes to 
make us think to the purpose about the great concern of life, not to 
do our thinking for us. From his point of view, complacent satis- 
faction with false conceptions of good is the deadliest of all maladies 
of the soul ; if he can make us honestly dissatisfied with our 
customary loose thinking, he has produced exactly the effect he 

We may now, bearing these few simple ideas in mind, consider 
the arguments of some of the early dialogues. 

The Greater Hippias. The form of the dialogue is the simplest 
possible ; it is a direct colloquy between Socrates and a single 
speaker, the well-known polymath Hippias of Elis, who figures also 
in the Lesser Hippias, the Protagoras, and a conversation, perhaps 
suggested by the opening remarks of our dialogue, in the fourth 
book of Xenophon's Memorabilia. 1 The presence of Hippias at 
Athens implies that the time is one of peace, and, as the first visit 
of Gorgias to the city is referred to as a past event (2826), the sup- 
posed date must be after 427 B.C., and therefore during the years of 
the peace of Nicias. Hippias is depicted as childishly conceited on 
the strength of the great variety of topics he is able to expound, and 
the brilliant financial success which attends him wherever he goes. 
Even at Sparta a city where he is often called on matters of state 
though no interest is taken in his astronomy and mathematics, he 
has made a resounding success with a more immediately practical 
1 Xenophon, Memor. iv. 4. 


subject, a set homily put into the mouth of Nestor on " the kind of 
fine achievements by which a young man may win high reputation " 
(2866). This remark leads on to the main subject of the dialogue, 
the question what is really meant by the word xaMv, beautiful, 
which was commonly employed, like its Latin equivalent honestum, 
and our colloquial " fine," to express both physical and moral beauty. 
Socrates professes to have much trouble in satisfying the question 
of a certain combative and ill-mannered acquaintance who has 
reproached him for constantly using the epithets Ka\6v and ato-^poV, 
" fine " and " ugly/' in judgments of value without being able to 
explain their exact meaning. Can Hippias help him out of his per- 
plexity ? (It does not call for much perspicacity to see that the 
imaginary " rude fellow " who insists on asking awkward questions 
is no other than Socrates himself. 1 ) The precise problem is this. 
We call an act of remarkable courage a " fine "act, and we say the 
same thing about an act of outstanding and remarkable justice. 
The use of the same word " fine " in both cases implies that there 
is a something (a certain i8os, form, or character the word is 
little more than a synonym for a " something ") common to both 
cases, or why do we give them the same name, " fine " ? What is 
" the fine itself," " the just fine " (avrb TO /caAoi/), i.e. what is it 
which is exactly and precisely named when we use the word " fine " ? 2 
Hippias, like many interlocutors in Plato, underrates the difficulty 
of the problem because he confuses the meaning of a term with an 
example of it. He answers that a " fine girl " is, of course, something 
" fine " (2870). But this clearly tells us nothing about the meaning 
of " fine." There are also " fine " horses, " fine " musical instru- 
ments, even " fine " pots and pans, like those made by the masters 
of Attic pottery (288^), and, after all, the beauty of the " fine girl " 
is relative. She would not be " fine " by comparison with a goddess 
(2896). What then is " the just fine," the character which all " fine " 
things exhibit ? (289^). Here again Hippias makes an elementary 
blunder. Anything, he says, is made " fine," if it is gilded, and so 
" that which by its presence makes a thing fine " may be said to 
be just gold (2890). 

But then the objection occurs that Phidias notoriously did not 
gild the features of his famous chryselephantine Athena, and surely 
Phidias may be presumed to have known his own business as an 
artist (2906). This leads, at last, to a real attempt to define " the 
fine." ^The " fine " is " the becoming " or " fitting " or " appro- 
priate " (TO TT/ocVov, 2900). It would follow from this at once that 
a soup-spoon of wood, because more " fitting," is more beautiful or 
" fine " than a golden spoon (2910). Note that Socrates does not 

1 See 2&Sd t where Socrates humorously describes his pertinacious ques- 
tioner as " no wit, one of the canaille who cares nothing for anything but 
the truth," and 2986 n, where he as good as identifies him with " the son of 

The characteristic phrases ai5rd rb Ka\6v and eWoi are introduced at 
289^ without explanation, as something quite familiar. They bear the same 


positively assert this conclusion, as he is represented as doing by 
interpreters who are determined to see nothing in him but a common- 
place utilitarian. He obviously intends to raise a difficulty. It 
seemed a satisfactory explanation of the procedure of Phidias to 
say that a statue with a gilded face would not be " beautiful " 
because the gilding would not be " befitting." Yet, though a com- 
mon wooden spoon would be more " in place " where one is eating 
soup than a golden one, it is a paradox to say that because the wooden 
spoon is " in place," it is a thing of beauty. Whatever may be the 
true answer to the question what " beauty " is, the identification 
of the aesthetically " fine " with the " befitting " is far too crude a 

Hippias evidently feels the difficulty, and is made to fall back 
again on an illustration, this time from the moral sphere. It is 
eminently " fine " to live in health, wealth, and honours, to bury 
your parents splendidly, and to receive in the fullness of days a 
splendid funeral from your descendants (291^). But this, again, is 
manifestly no true definition. A definition must be rigidly uni- 
versal. But every one will admit that Heracles and Achilles and 
others who preferred a short and glorious to a long and inglorious 
life, and so died young and left their parents to survive them, made 
a " fine " choice (292^-293^). The illustration has thus led nowhere, 
and we have still to discuss the definition of the " fine " as the 
" fitting " or " becoming " on its own merits. When a thing has 
the character of being " becoming," does this make it " fine," or 
does it only make the thing seem " fine " ? Hippias prefers the 
second alternative, since even a scarecrow of a man can be made to 
look "finer" if he is "becomingly" dressed. But, obviously, if 
" propriety " makes things seem finer than they really are, " the 
appropriate " and the " fine " cannot be the same thing (2946). 
And we cannot get out of the difficulty, as Hippias would like to do, 
by saying the " appropriateness " both makes things " fine " and 
makes them seem " fine." If that were so, what really is " fine " 
would always seem fine too. Yet it is notorious that communities 
and individuals differ about nothing more than about the question 
what sort of conduct is " fine " (2940-^). Thus if " appropriate- 
ness " actually makes things " fine," the proposed definition may 
possibly be the right one ; but if it only makes them " seem " fine 
(we have seen that the alternatives are exclusive of one another] 
the definition must clearly be rejected. And Hippias is satisfied 
that this second alternative is the true one (2940). (Hume's well- 
known ethical theory affords a good illustration of the point of this 
reasoning. Hume sets himself to show that every society thinks 
the kind of conduct it " disinterestedly " likes virtuous and the 

meaning which they have in dialogues where the so-called " ideal theory " is 
expounded. They mean that which is denoted without excess or defect by a 
significant name, a determinate character. This is a good illustration of the 
way in which the " ideal theory " is directly suggested by the everyday use of 
language. It is assumed that if several things can each be significantly called 
x t then x has a determinate significance which is the same in all the cases. 


conduct it " disinterestedly " dislikes vicious. He then assumes 
that he has proved that these two kinds of conduct really are 
virtuous and vicious respectively, and that because a society knows 
certainly what it likes and what it dislikes, it is infallible in its 
judgments about virtue and vice. There is manifestly no con- 
nexion between the premises of this reasoning and its conclusion.) 
Socrates now (2950) throws out a suggestion of his own for examina- 
tion. Perhaps it may be that the " fine " is the same as the 
" useful." At any rate, by " fine eyes " we seem to mean eyes 
which do their work of seeing well, by a " fine " or " handsome " 
body one which discharges its various functions well, and the same 
considerations seem to hold good of " fine " horses, ships, imple- 
ments of all kinds, and " fine " social institutions. In all these cases 
we seem to call " fine " that which serves the use to which it is to 
be put well, and " ugly " that which serves that use badly. The 
examples, drawn from a wide range of facts, thus suggest an obvious 
generalization, and the use of them to suggest it is an illustration 
of what Aristotle had in mind when he specified " inductive argu- 
ments " as one of the contributions of Socrates to philosophical 
method. 1 

If the definition once given were magisterially proposed for our 
acceptance, Socrates would thus stand revealed as a pure utilitarian 
in moral and aesthetic theory. But it is, in fact, put forward 
tentatively as a suggestion for examination. The examination 
is conducted in strict accord with the requirements of the dialectical 
method as described in the Phaedo.* The first step is to see what 
consequences follow from the suggested " postulate " (uTroflco-ts). 
If the consequences are found to be in accord with known facts, 
and thus so far " verified," the postulate will be regarded as so far 
justified ; if some of them prove to be at variance with fact, it must 
be modified or dismissed, it cannot hold the field as it stands. 

What consequences follow, then, from the identification of the 
" fine " with the " useful " ? There is one at least which must 
give us pause. A thing is useful for what it can do, not for what it 
cannot ; thus our formula apparently leads to the identification of 
TO KaXov with power to produce some result. But results may be 
good or they may be bad, and it seems monstrous to hold that 
power to produce evil is " fine." We must, at the least, modify 
our statement by saying that the " fine " is that which can produce 
good, i.e., whether the " useful " is " fine " or not will depend on 
the goodness or badness of the end to which it is instrumental. 
Now we call that which is instrumental to good " profitable " 
(co^cXt/xov) ; thus our proposed definition must be made more 
specific by a further determination. We must say " the fine " 

1 Aristot. Met. MioySfc 27. Note that neither Socrates nor Aristotle regards 
the "induction" as a proof. The generalization rb Ka\6v=T6 xPWWfo has 
yet to be tested and may have to be rejected. The testing is the work of 
intellectual analysis, or, as Socrates and Plato call it " dialectic," 

* Phaedo, iooa-6, 


is that which is profitable (instrumental to the production of 
good) (2960). 

Even so, we have a worse difficulty to face. We are saying in 
effect that the " fine " = that which causes good as its result. But 
a cause and its effect are always different (or, in modern language, 
causality is always transitive). Hence, if the "fine " is the cause 
of good, it must follow that what is " fine " is never itself good, and 
what is good is never itself " fine," and this is a monstrous paradox 
(2970). It seems then that the attempt to give a utilitarian 
definition of TO KO.\OV must be abandoned. 

Possibly we may succeed better with a hedonist theory of beauty. 
The pictures, statues, and the like which we call " fine " all give us 
pleasure, and so do music and literature. In the one case the 
pleasure is got from sight, in the other from hearing. This suggests 
the new theory that the " fine " is " that which it is pleasant to see 
or hear " (2980). And we may even get in " moral beauty " under 
the formula, for " fine conduct " and " fine laws " are things which 
it gives us pleasure to see or to hear. But there is a logical diffi- 
culty to face. We are trying to define the " fine " as " that which it 
is pleasant to see and hear." But, of course, you do not hear the 
things which it is pleasant to see, nor see the things which it is 
pleasant to hear. Thus our proposed definition will not be true of 
either of the classes of things which are " fine," and, being true of 
neither, it cannot be true of both. We assumed that TO *a\ov, 
whatever it may be, must be a character common to all ' fine " 
things, but " to be seen and heard " is not a character either of the 
" pleasures of sight " or of the " pleasures of hearing " (3000, 6). 

Aristotle comments on the fallacy, formally committed in this 
argument, of confusing " and " with or," but the real trouble Ties 
deeper. When the reasoning has been made formally sound by sub- 
stituting " or " everywhere for " and," it still remains the fact 
that it is hard to say that the " pleasures of sight " and those of 
hearing have anything in common but their common character of 
being pleasant, and it has been the standing assumption of the 
dialogue that all " fine " things have some one common character. 
But the conclusion, which might seem indicated, that the " fineness " 
which all " fine " things have in common is just " pleasantness " 
is excluded by the firm conviction of both Plato and Aristotle that 
there are " disgraceful," morally " ugly " pleasures, e.g. those of the 
sexual " pervert." At the same time, the proposed formula is at 
any rate suggestive. There must be some reason why the two un- 
mistakably " aesthetic " senses should be just sight and hearing, 
though the utilization of the fact demands a much more developed 
aesthetic psychology than that of our dialogue. The equivocation 
between " and " and " or " is, on Socrates' part, a conscious trap 
laid for his antagonist, as he shows when he goes on to remark that, 
after all, it is possible for " both " to have a character which belongs 
to neither singly, since, e.g., Socrates and Hippias are a couple, though 
Socrates is not a couple, nor is Hippias. Thus it would be logically 


possible that " the pleasures of sight and hearing " might collectively 
have some character which belongs to neither class separately ; but 
the possibility is nothing to our purpose. For we agreed that the 
" fine " is a character which makes all " fine " things " fine," and 
obviously a character which " fine sights " do not possess, (though 
the collection "fine sights and sounds " may possess it,) cannot be 
what makes " fine " sights fine (303^). If we look for some common 
character which distinguishes both pleasures of sight and pleasures of 
hearing from other pleasures, and so justifies our calling them in 
particular the " fine " pleasures, the only obvious character is that 
both are " harmless " and therefore better than other pleasures, 
(indulgence in which may easily harm our health or character or 
repute). But this brings us back to our old formula that the " fine " 
is the " profitable " with the added specification that it is " profitable 
pleasure " (3030). And thus we are faced once more with the diffi- 
culty that the " fine " is made productive of good, or a cause of good, 
with the consequence that the " fine " is not itself good nor the good 
itself " fine " (30401). Thus the result of the whole discussion is nega- 
tive. We have only learned that though we are always talking about 
" fine conduct," as though we knew our own meaning, we are really 
in a state of mental fog of which we ought to be ashamed. We have 
discovered our own ignorance of what it is most imperative we should 
know and what we fancy ourselves to know exceptionally well. 

It is in this salutary lesson and not in any of the proposed 
definitions of the " fine " that we must look for the real significance 
of the dialogue. But it is also suggestive in other ways. The lesson 
it gives in the right method of framing and testing a definition is 
more important than any of the tentative definitions examined. 
Yet it is a valuable hint towards a more developed aesthetic theory 
that sensible " beauty " is found to be confined to the perceptions 
of the two senses of sight and hearing, and the illustration of the 
golden and wooden spoons might well serve as a warning against 
the dangers of an unduly " rationalistic " aesthetic theory. A 
wooden porridge-spoon is not necessarily a thing of beauty because 
it may be admirably " adapted " for the purposes of the porridge- 
eater. It is a still more important contribution to sound ethics to 
have insisted on the impossibility of reducing moral excellence 
(the " fine " in action) to mere " efficiency," irrespective of the moral 
quality of the results of the " efficient " agent. 1 And the emphatic 
insistence on the " transitive " character of all causality a view 
which pervades all the best Greek metaphysics from first to last 
may be regarded as the opening of a discussion which has continued 
to our own time and has issues of the most momentous kind for the 
whole interpretation of existence. 2 

1 Mr. Chesterton remarks somewhere that Fagin was probably an excep- 
tionally " efficient " educator of boys ; the trouble was that he was efficient 
in teaching them the wrong things. 

1 E.g. the cause of Theism is bound up with the position that all genuine 
causality is " transitive," and that purely " immanent " causality is not caus- 


The Lesser Hippias. This short dialogue, though less ambitious 
in its scope, is much more brilliantly executed than the Hippias 
Major. Its authenticity is sufficiently established by the fact that 
Aristotle, though not mentioning the author, quotes the dialogue by 
name as " the Hippias " ; such explicit references never occur in 
his work to writings of any " Socratic men " other than Plato. 1 
The conversation discusses a single ethical paradox, and its real 
purport only emerges in the closing words of Socrates. 

Socrates opens the talk by quoting an opinion that the Iliad 
is a finer poem than the Odyssey, as the hero of the former, 
Achilles, is a morally nobler character than Odysseus, the 
hero of the latter. The moralistic tone of this criticism is 
characteristically Athenian, as we can see for ourselves from 
a reading of the Frogs of Aristophanes, but does not concern us 
further. The remark is a mere peg on which to hang a discussion 
of the purely ethical problem in which Socrates is really interested. 
The transition is effected by the declaration of Hippias that Achilles 
was certainly a nobler character than Odysseus, since Achilles is 
single-minded, sincere, and truthful, but Odysseus notoriously ruse 
and a past master of deceit. We see this from the famous lines in 
the ninth book of the Iliad, where Achilles pointedly tells the " art- 
ful " Odysseus that he hates the man who says one thing and means 
another " worse than the gates of Hades " (365^). Socrates replies 
that, after all, Achilles was no more " truthful " than Odysseus, as 
the context of this very passage proves. He said he would at once 
desert the expedition, but, in fact, he did nothing of the kind, and, 
what is more, he actually told his friend Aias a different story. To 
him he said not that he would sail home, but that he would keep 
out of the fighting until the Trojans should drive the Achaeans 
back to their ships (371 b). (This is meant to negative the suggestion 
of Hippias that Achilles honestly meant what he said when he 
threatened to desert, but changed his mind afterwards because of 
the unexpected straits to which his comrades-in-arms were reduced.) 
It looks then as though Homer, unlike Hippias, thought that the 
" truthful man " and the " liar " are not two, but one and the same. 

This is the paradox which Socrates proceeds to defend, and Hippias, 
in the name of common sense, to deny. Or rather it is the application 
of a still more general paradox that the man who " misses the 
mark " (a/xapram) on purpose (CACW^) is " better " than the man 
who does so " unintentionally " (aKw). Popular morality rejects 

ality at all. This becomes specially obvious from a study of the famou? 
Aristotelian argument for the " unmoved Mover." 

1 It is barely credible that Aristotle should not have read the admired 
" Socratic discourses " of Aeschines of Sphettus or the Alcibiades of Antis- 
thenes, and it is therefore significant that he never mentions any of these 
works. We may take it that a named dialogue introducing Socrates always 
means to him a dialogue of Plato, or one regarded by the contemporary 
Academy as Plato's. And I cannot believe that the Academy itself can have 
been liable to error about the Platonic authorship of dialogues within a quarter 
of a century of Plato's death. 


a view of this kind as monstrous. It holds that we ought, as 
Hippias says, to show o-vyyrtu/x.^ (to " make allowances ") for 
involuntary wrong-doing, but that for deliberate wrong-doing there is 
no excuse. The main interest of the dialogue lies in the line of argu- 
ment by which Socrates impugns this generally accepted thesis. 
He proceeds, as usual, by an " inductive " argument, i.e. an appeal 
to analogy. In general, the man who knows most about a subject 
is of all men the one who can mislead you in his own subject if he 
chooses to do so. An able mathematician, like Hippias, would be 
much better able to impose a false demonstration on others than a 
non-mathematician, who would only commit fallacies unintentionally 
and incidentally, and thus be led into visible self-contradictions. 
And the same thing holds good for astronomy (366^-3680). The 
same thing is true about arts involving manual dexterity (3686- 
3696). The man who only fails when he means to fail is a much 
better craftsman than the man who fails unintentionally from in- 
competence. It is true also of all forms of bodily dexterity. The 
runner who falls behind only when he means to do so, the wrestler 
who is thrown when he means to let himself be thrown, is a better 
runner or wrestler than the man who falls behind his competitor 
or is thrown against his will, because he " can't help it " (3730- 
374&). So with physical " talents." The man who only makes a 
false note when he means to do so is a better singer than the man 
who can't help singing out of tune. And in the world of industry, 
a tool with which you can make a bad stroke when you mean to do 
so, is a better tool than one with which you can't help making false 
strokes. And to come to living " implements," a horse or a dog 
which does its work badly only when the owner means that it shall, 
has a " better soul " than one which does the wrong thing when the 
owner means it to do the right one (3746-3750). The same thing 
would be true of a servant. (Bob Sawyer's boy, who took the medi- 
cines to the wrong houses because he was ordered to do so, was much 
more efficient than the sort of boy who blunders about errands 
because he is too stupid to do what he is told.) We may argue by 
analogy that our own souls are better if they " go wrong " on pur- 
pose than if they do so unintentionally (375^). In fact, we may 
condense the principle of the argument thus. Righteousness or 
morality (StKcuoow^) is either " power " (Suva/us), or " knowledge " 
(eTrioTTfttoy), or both. But the man who can do right is better in 
respect of " power, 1 ' a more " able " man than the man who 
cannot ; and the man who knows how to do it has more knowledge 
than the man who does not. And we have seen that it takes more 
ability and more knowledge to " go wrong " when you mean to do so, 
than to blunder unintentionally. And the better man is the man 
who has the better soul. Hence it seems to follow that " the man 
who does wrong on purpose, if there is such a person, is a better man 
than the man who does wrong unintentionally " (375^-3766). Yet 
this is such a paradox that Socrates hesitates to assert it, though 
he does not see how to escape it. 


What is the real point of this curious argument ? It is clear, 
of course, that the main assumption on which it is based is the famous 
Socratic thesis that " virtue is knowledge," and again, that the 
method by which the conclusion is reached is the appeal to the 
analogy of the arts and crafts so constantly employed by Socrates. 
It is clear also that Plato does not mean us to accept the alleged 
inference ; he does not seriously think that the deliberate " villain " 
is morally better than the man who does wrong, in an hour of 
temptation, against his settled purpose in life ; it is the impossibility 
of such a doctrine which leads Socrates to say that he cannot 
commit himself consistently to the conclusion. Yet we cannot 
take the dialogue as intended to expose and refute either the doctrine 
that virtue is knowledge, or the use of the analogy from the " arts " 
as valuable in ethical reasoning. That a man who knows " the 
good " will, of course, aim at it is a standing doctrine of all Greek 
ethics ; to suppose that Plato means either to deny this or to 
reject reasoning from the " arts," would be to treat nearly the 
whole of the Republic, to name no other Platonic dialogues, as a 
prolonged bad joke. We must therefore find some other method 'of 

On reflection we see that the key to Plato's meaning is really 
supplied by one clause in the proposition which emerges as the 
conclusion of the matter : " the man who does wrong on purpose, 
if there is such a person, is the good man." The insinuation plainly 
is that there really is no such person as " the man who does wrong 
on purpose," and that the paradox does not arise simply because 
there is no such person. In other words, we have to understand 
the Socratic doctrine that virtue is knowledge, and the Socratic 
use of the analogy of the " arts," in the light of the other well-known 
Socratic dictum, repeated by Plato on his own account in the Laws, 
that " all wrong-doing is involuntary." It is this, and not the 
formulated inference that the man who does wrong on purpose is 
the good man, which is the real conclusion to which Plato is con- 
ducting us. And we need have no difficulty about admitting this 
conclusion, if we bear in mind the true and sensible remark of 
Proclus about the Platonic sense of the word " voluntary " (IKOV'O-IOV). 
In Plato, the voluntary, as Proclus says, 1 means regularly what we 
really wish to have. Now no man wishes to have what he knows or 
believes to be bad for him. Many men wish for what, in fact, would 
be bad for them, but they can only do so because they falsely think 
the thing in question good. To wish to have a thing because you 
know it would be bad for you would be impossible. As Aristotle puts 
it, " every one wishes for what he thinks good." Many men choose 
evil in spite of the fact that it is evil, no one chooses it because it is 
evil and he knows it to be so. (Of course he may know or believe 
that he will be sent to prison or to hell for choosing as he does, but 
at heart he thinks that it will be " worth his while " to take these 
consequences, he will be " better off " even after paying this price 
1 Proclus, in Remp. ii. 355 (Kroll). 


for what he desires. 1 ) Thus the proposition " all wrong-doing is 
involuntary/ 1 has nothing to do with the question of human 
freedom ; it is merely the negative way of stating that a man who 
really knows what his highest good is, will always act on this know- 
ledge. The man who really knows the good but chooses something 
else is as much of a nonentity as a round square, and it is just because 
" there is no such person " that the wildest paradoxes can be asserted 
about him. 

It follows that knowledge of the good is, in one respect, different 
from every other kind of knowledge, and this difference affects the 
employment of the analogy from professional and technical know- 
ledge, the sort of thing the " sophists " meant by " knowledge/ 1 
It is the only knowledge which cannot be put to a wrong use ; every 
other kind of knowledge can be abused, and is abused when it is 
put to a bad use, as, e.g., when the medical man employs his special 
professional knowledge to produce disease or death, instead of 
curing the one or preventing the other. There is a real analogy 
between " goodness " and the " arts " ; false beliefs about what is 
good or bad will ruin the conduct of life, as surely as false beliefs 
about what is wholesome will ruin a man's practical success as a 
medical man ; but if you press the analogy to the point of arguing 
that a man can use his knowledge of good for the deliberate doing of 
evil, as he might use his knowledge of medicine to commit a clever 
murder, you will be led astray, a truth with which Socrates is made 
to show himself familiar in Book I. of the Republic, when he urges 
this very point against Polemarchus ; that the analogy has its limits 
does not prevent it from being a sound analogy within those limits ; 
that it becomes unsound when you forget them is no reason for 
denying that virtue really is knowledge, though it is not, like the 
" goodness " taught by the sophists, mere technical knowledge 
how to produce certain results, if you happen to wish for them. 

Ion. Little need be said about this slight dialogue on the nature 
of " poetic inspiration." The main ideas suggested are expounded 
much more fully in those important Platonic works with which we 
shall have to deal later. We may, however, make a few remarks 
about the current conceptions of poetry against which Socrates is made 
to protest. It is important to remember that the whole conception 
of " inspiration, 1 ' so familiar to ourselves, is foreign to the way of 
thinking of poetry characteristic of the age of Pericles and Socrates. 
Poets were habitually reckoned, along with physicians, engineers, 
engravers, and others, as <ro<oi, "wits " or "clever men." This 
means that what was thought distinctive of the poet was not what 
we call "native genius," but "craftsmanship," "workmanship," 
" technique." He was conceived as consciously producing a 
beautiful result by the deft fitting together of words and musical 
sounds, exactly as the architect does the same thing by the deft 
putting together of stones. Of all the great Greek poets Pindar is 

1 Cf. " To reign is worth ambition though in Hell : 

Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n." 


the only one who pointedly insists on the superiority of </>ua, " native 
genius/ 1 to the craftsmanship (r^xvrj) which can be taught and 
learned; but to our taste conscious workmanship, rather than 
untaught " inspiration/ 1 is the characteristic quality of Pindar 
himself. We should never dream of talking of his " native wood- 
notes wild/' or of comparing htm with a skylark pouring out its soul 
in " unpremeditated art/' Also it was held commonly that the service 
the poet does us is definitely to " teach " us something how to fight 
a battle, how to choose a wife, to retain a friend, or something of 
that kind. This explains why, in the Apology, when Socrates is 
speaking of his attempts to discover a "wiser man " than himself, 
he mentions poets along with statesmen as the two classes of recog- 
nized o-o^ot to whom he first turned his attention (Apol. 220). 
Since he found that the most admired poets were quite helpless 
at explaining the meaning of their own finest passages, he came to 
the conclusion, which he repeatedly maintains in Plato, that poets 
are not deliberate " craftsmen " at all, (do not compose in virtue of 
(ro<ia, ibid. 226,) but that poetry is a matter of " natural endowment " 
(<uo-is) and non-rational' 'inspiration/' and thus became the originator 
of the conception of the " poet " conventional among ourselves. 

Ion, who is represented as an eminent professional rhapsode, 
shares the current views of the " wisdom " of the poets ; it is a 
matter of " skill " or " art " (rc^vr;), and he assents at once to 
the inference that the professional reciter of poetry absorbs from 
his study of the poet's works a special measure of their author's 
" skill." The interpreter of the poet to the audience is, like the 
poet himself, the possessor of a " craft " or " profession." Yet 
he has to admit that his own skill as an interpreter is confined to 
the poetry of Homer ; he cannot succeed in declaiming any other 
poet or explaining the "beauties " of his work; in fact, his interest 
flags as soon as any poet but Homer is made the topic of conversa- 
tion. This, as Socrates says, serves to show that the rhapsode's 
accomplishment is not the result of specialist skill. All the poets, 
as Ion admits, treat of much the same topics the conduct of men and 
women in the various occupations of life, the " things in the heavens 
and the underworld," and the births and doings of "gods," 
though Homer treats all these topics better than any one else, 
Hence if the exposition of a poet were a matter of professional 
expert knowledge, the same knowledge which makes a man able 
to appreciate and expound Homer, would equally make him a good 
critic and expositor of poetry in general. Consequently, Socrates 
suggests that the conception of the interpreter of the poet as a 
conscious " craftsman " is mistaken. The poets themselves are not 
self-conscious " artists " ; they compose their works in a mood of 
"inspiration " in which they are " taken out of themselves/' and 
are temporarily, like "seers" or Bacchanals, vehicles "possessed " 
by a higher power of which they are the unconscious mouthpieces 
In the same way, the " rhapsode " with a special gift for reciting 
Homer is " inspired " by the poet at second-hand. He becomes 


temporarily himself the " mouthpiece " of the poet, as the poet is 
the mouthpiece of the god. And he in turn " inspires " his hearers 
by communicating to them, in a non-logical way, something of the 
" inspiration " he has received from the poet. Thus poet, reciter, 
audience, are like so many links of iron, the first of which is " attrac- 
ted " by a magnet, and in its turn attracts another. It is evidence 
for the non-rational character of this influence that the rhapsode 
for the time actually enters into the feelings of the characters whose 
speeches he is declaiming, shudders with their fears and weeps 
over their distresses, and makes his audience (Jo the like, though 
neither they nor he may really be faced with any danger or distress. 
So far Ion is not unwilling to go with Socrates, but he is less ready 
to follow him when Socrates turns to the other chief feature in the 
popular conception of the poet, and denies that the poet as such is 
a " teacher " with knowledge to impart to us. If Homer were 
really a great teacher of wisdom human and divine, it should follow 
that a rhapsode, whose profession compels him to be intimately 
acquainted with Homer's poetry, is also a high authority in all 
fields of knowledge. But it is undeniable that a physician would 
be a sounder judge of Homer's statements about medicine than a 
rhapsode, and again that a racing man would be better able to 
appreciate and criticize the advice Nestor gives in the Iliad about 
horse-racing than a professional rhapsode, unless the rhapsode 
happens incidentally to be a specialist in horse-racing. If then 
there really is any department of specialist knowledge which can be 
acquired by a study of Homer, what is it ? 

Ion falls back on the traditional view that at any rate Homer is 
a specialist in the art of warfare, and that a close student of Homer, 
such as he himself has been, learns from Homer the " art of the 
general." The Iliad, in fact, is a first-rate manual of military science, 
and Ion professes, on the strength of his familiarity with it, to be a 
great general in posse. But how comes it, then, that he has never 
attempted to distinguish himself in so eminently honourable a 
profession ? If there is no opening in his native city of Ephesus, 
which is now a subject-ally of Athens, why has he never, like some 
other aliens, entered the military service of Athens herself ? 

Nominally the little dialogue is concerned with the question 
whether rhapsodes and actors owe their success to professional 
or expert knowledge, or to some kind of "genius " or non-rational 
" inspiration." But it is clear that the real points intended to be 
made are that the poet himself is not an " expert " in any kind of 
knowledge and, as poet, has not necessarily anything to teach us. 
These points are enforced more impressively in other Platonic 
works, notably in the Phaedrus, but the Ion has its value, both as a 
contribution to the psychology of the " rhapsode " (or, as we should 
say to-day, the actor), and as a particularly clear and simple refuta- 
tion of the never-dying popular delusion that the function of the 
poet himself, and consequently of his exponent, is primarily didactic. 
The type of critic who conceives it to be his business to find 


" morals " and " lessons " in the plays of Shakespeare, and regards 
it as the object of Hamlet or Macbeth to warn us against procrastina- 
tion or ambition, has something to learn even from the Ion. 

Menexenus. The Menexenus offers, in a way, a worse puzzle to 
the reader than any other work of the Platonic corpus, and it is not 
surprising that its authenticity should be doubted by students of 
Plato who are in general on the conservative side in questions of 
genuineness. Externally the evidence for it is good. It is twice 
cited by Aristotle, 1 and once with a formal title, " the Funeral Dis- 
course/' and this seems to show that Aristotle at least believed it to 
be Platonic. Now the systematic production of works falsely 
ascribed to eminent authors seems not to occur in the history of 
Greek literature until long after the time of Aristotle. And again 
it is not likely that Aristotle, of all men, should have been mis- 
informed about the real authorship of an Academic dialogue. Thus 
it is hard to believe either that the dialogue is a deliberate forgery 
or that it is a production of some lesser member of the Academy 
which has been ascribed by a simple mistake to Plato, as seems to 
be the case with a few of the minor items of the " canon of Thrasylus." 
Nor have modern stylometrical investigations given any reason to 
suspect the little work. Aristotle's allusion thus seems to compel 
us to accept it as genuine. On the other hand, there are two 
notorious difficulties which we have to face when we admit Plato's 
authorship. One is that it is at least hard to see what Plato's 
object in such a composition can be. The other is that the dialogue 
commits an anachronism to which there is no parallel anywhere 
in Plato, and which cannot be unconscious. The body of it is made 
up of a recital by Socrates of a " funeral oration " on the Athenians 
who fell in the Corinthian war, and Socrates professes to have 
heard the speech from the lips of the famous Aspasia, the wife of 
Pericles. It is certain that Socrates was put to death in the summer 
of the year 399 B.C., long before the opening of the Corinthian war 
(395 B.C.). Yet he is made to carry his review of Athenian history 
down to the pacification dictated by the Persian king, which ended 
the war in the year 387. Aspasia, the nominal speaker, must 
have died before Socrates. This is implied in the structure of 
the Aspasia of Aeschines, on which see H. Dittmar, Aeschines 
von Sphettus, 45-56. Plato must have violated chronology quite 
deliberately and with a view to producing a definite effect. But 
what can we suppose the intention to have been ? 

It is idle to suggest that the whole affair is a mere Aristophanic 
jest, and that Plato only wants to show that he can rival the 
comedians on their own ground by putting ludicrous " topical 
allusions " into the mouth of his hero. We cannot reconcile such 
a use of Socrates, for purposes of pure burlesque, with the tone of 
reverence and devotion in which Plato continues to speak of 
Socrates in the letters written at the very end of his own life ; even 
1 Rhetoric, 13676 8, 1415^ 30. 


if one could, we have to remember that Socrates is not being made, 
as he might be made in a burlesque, to offer a remarkably intelligent 
" anticipation of the course of events " ; he is represented as com- 
menting on the events of the twelve or thirteen years after his own 
death ex post facto. And we still have to explain why Socrates 
should pretend that Aspasia too is still a well-known figure at 
Athens, and that he has learned his discourse from her. Again, we 
cannot account for this use of Aspasia by appealing to the passage 
(Menexenus, 2366) where Socrates is made to credit her with the 
authorship of the famous " funeral speech/' delivered by Pericles 
in the first year of the Archidamian war, and reported by Thucydides. 
Plato's object is not to ridicule oratory of this kind by the insinuation 
that its tone is what might be expected from a woman and an 
hetaera. The remains of the Aspasia of Aeschines of Sphettus, 
make it clear that the view, which underlies the proposals of 
Republic v., that " the goodness of a woman and that of a man are 
the same/' was a genuine doctrine of Socrates, and that he quite 
seriously believed in the " political capacity " of Aspasia. His 
profession of owing his own " Funeral Discourse " to her is, no doubt, 
only half-serious, but it is quite in keeping with what we know to 
have been his real conviction. We have therefore to discover the 
object of the whole singular mystification, if we can, from an 
analysis of the oration itself. 

It will not be necessary to insert here a full analysis, but there are 
certain points, well brought out in such a commentary as Stall- 
baum's, which we have to bear in mind.' The discourse is framed 
on the lines we can see from comparison with the extant examples 
to have been conventional on such occasions. It treats first of 
the glorious inheritance and traditions of the community into which 
the future warriors were born and in which they were brought up, 
then of their own achievements, by which they have approved 
themselves worthy of such an origin, and finally of the considera- 
tions which should moderate the grief of their surviving friends 
and relatives. In this respect it exhibits a close parallel with the 
discourse of Pericles in Thucydides, the " funeral speech " included 
in the works ascribed to Lysias, the Panegyricus of Isocrates, the 
discourse of Hyperides on Leosthenes and his companions in the 
Lamian war. There are direct verbal echoes of the speech of 
Lysias, perhaps of that of Pericles, and, I suspect, also of the 
Isocratean Panegyricus, a work of the year 380. The diction 
again has clearly been modelled on that actually adopted in real 
encomia of the fallen, and it is this which makes it impossible to 
use evidence from style to date the dialogue. " Funeral orations " 
belong to the type of oratory called by the Greeks " epideictic," and 
demand an artificial elevation of diction and use of verbal ornament 
avoided in " forensic " pleading and political speaking. Hence 
all the extant specimens exhibit, to a greater or a less degree, the 
high-flown and semi-poetical character distinctive of the Sicilian 
" show declamation " introduced to Athens by Gorgias, and Plato 


has been careful to preserve this peculiarity. When we examine 
the contents of the discourse, we see that he has been equally careful 
to conform to the accepted model. His oration, like those of 
Lysias and Isocrates, but unlike the really statesmanlike discourse 
of Pericles, dwells on the topics afforded by mythology for the 
glorification of Athens, the origination of the cultivation of corn 
and of the olive in Attica, the contest of Athena with Hephaestus 
for the patronage of the city, the public spirit and chivalry displayed 
in such legendary exploits as the protection of the family of Heracles 
and the rescuing for burial of the corpses of the champions who fell 
before the gates of Thebes. Lysias and Isocrates both expatiate on 
these prehistorical events at great length a length apparently 
satirized by Socrates in the remark (2396) that they have already 
received their due meed of celebration from the poets. The speech 
then proceeds, like those which are apparently its immediate 
models, to a sketch of the history of Athens down to date, the 
object of which is to glorify the city on two grounds its rooted and 
inveterate antipathy to " barbarians," (2420-0, 245^,) and its 
unselfish Panhellenism, shown by its readiness always to make 
sacrifices to preserve the " balance of power " between the different 
Greek cities by supporting the weaker side in these internal quarrels 
(244^). The demonstration of the second point in particular leads 
to a bold falsification of history, by which the fifth century attempts 
of Athens to dominate Boeotia and the Archidamian war itself 
are made to appear as heroic struggles against the " imperialism " 
of other communities. We know enough from Plato of the real 
sentiments both of himself and of Socrates to understand that this 
version of history cannot represent the serious convictions of 
either ; it has all the appearance of satire on the " patriotic " version 
of history given by Isocrates in an inconsistent combination with 
Panhellenism. Similarly, after reading the Gorgias and Republic 
and the sketch of Athenian history given in Laws iii., we shall 
find it impossible to take the Menexenm seriously when it glorifies 
the existing constitution of Athens as a true aristocracy in which the 
men who are reputed to be " best " govern with the free consent of 
the multitude (238^-0). When we are told that at Athens, as 
nowhere else, " he who has the repute of wisdom and goodness is 
sovereign/* the emphasis must be meant to fall on the words " who 
has the repute/ 1 and the encomium is disguised satire. Probably, 
then, the real purpose of the discourse is to imitate and at the same 
time, by adroit touches of concealed malice, to satirize popular 
" patriotic oratory." It is no objection to such an interpretation 
to say, what is true enough, that the speech contains noble passages 
on the duty of devotion to one's State and the obligation of per- 
petuating its finest traditions. Even the " flag-flapper " who 
distorts all history into a romantic legend of national self-glorifica- 
tion, usually has some good arguments, as well as many bad ones, 
for his " patriotism/ 1 and we may credit Plato with sufficient 
penetration to have seen that satire misses its designed effect unless 


it is accompanied by intelligent recognition of the good which is 
mingled with the evil in its objects. (This is why so much of the 
writing of Juvenal, Swift, Victor Hugo, merely wearies a reader 
by the monotony of the invective. 1 ) 

If Isocrates is the person against whom the satire of the Menex- 
enus is largely directed, we can see an excellent reason why that 
satire should be so liberally mixed with sympathy. Isocrates was 
honourably distinguished by his real superiority to mere particu- 
larism and his real concern for the interests of Greek civilization as 
a whole, and in this he and Plato were wholly at one. But, unlike 
Plato, who regarded the hard and fast distinction between Greek 
and " barbarian " as unscientific superstition, Isocrates takes the 
antithesis seriously and tends to regard hate of the barbarian as 
equivalent to love for civilization. The combination of the two 
points of view in the Menexenus is a fair representation of his lifelong 
attitude towards affairs. So again the distortion of history by which 
the most aggressive exploits of Attic imperialism, such as the attempt 
of Pericles and his friends to dominate Boeotia, and the Archida- 
mian War as a whole, are represented as " wars of liberation," 
is no very violent parody of the methods of Isocrates when he is 
anxious, as in the Panegyricus, to gratify Athenian partiality for 
Athens or Athenian dislike of Sparta. One may suspect the same 
purpose of parody in the false emphasis which is laid in the Menex- 
enus on the naval exploits of Athens in the Sicilian expedition as 
efforts for the " liberation " of the oppressed. Isocrates notoriously 
held the view that the naval ascendancy of Athens had been a 
national misfortune, since it had led to the lust for empire, and 
there are passages in the Laws which show that Plato sympathized 
with this conviction. But it would be a telling criticism of the 
Isocratean way of manipulating history to show that it could easily 
be employed for glorifying precisely the side of Athenian history 
which gave Isocrates himself least satisfaction. You have only to 
sit as loosely to facts as Isocrates habitually allows himself to do 
when he wishes to praise or to abuse some one, and you can make 
Alcibiades into a hero of chivalry who was only doing his duty by 
the oppressed when he lured Athens on to its ruin by the prospect of 
the conquest of Sicily ! 2 If we read the Menexenus in this light, we 
can perhaps understand the point of the curious anachronism in 
its setting. The satire of the actual " Funeral Discourse " is so 
subtly mixed with sympathetic appreciation that it would be easy 
to mistake the whole speech for a serious encomium a mistake 
which has actually been made by a good many interpreters of Plato. 
The ordinary reader needs some very visible warning sign if he is 
to approach the discourse with the required anticipation that 

1 Cf. the excellent remarks of Sir A. Quiller-Couch, Studies in Literature, 
p. 290 ff . 

* Lysias takes care to " skip " the Peloponnesian War entirely ; Isocrates 
does worse. He actually justifies the two great crimes of the enslavement 
and massacre of the Melians and the destruction of Scione I 


its purpose is satirical. The warning is given, for any intelligent 
reader, by the amazing introduction of Socrates at a date years 
after his death. It is as though Plato were telling us in so many 
words that we are dealing with the utterances of a mere puppet 
who has nothing to do with the great man to whose memory the 
dialogues in general are a splendid tribute. Even so, the fiction is 
singular, and hardly to be accounted for unless we realize the 
presence in Plato himself of a peculiar vein of freakish humour 
which comes out notably in the singular " antinomies " of the 
Parmenides as well as in the whimsicalities of the Sophistes and 
Politicus. It was an " impish " trick to put the discourse of the 
Menexenus into the mouth of a puppet Socrates, and we may be 
glad that the trick was never repeated, as we are glad that Shake- 
speare never perpetrated a second Troilus and Cressida. The very 
audacity of the trick is some additional evidence of the genuineness 
of the dialogue. We can understand that Plato might take such 
a liberty once, and in an unhappy moment ; it is surely incredible 
that a younger member of Plato's entourage should have ventured on 
it at all. 

See further: 

RITTKR, C. Platon, i. 297-308 (Hippias //), 359-361 
(Hippias I), 485-496 (Menexenus}. 

RAEDER, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 92-94 (Ion), 
94-95 (Hippias /I), 101-106 (Hippias /), 125-127 
(Menexenus) . 

APELT, O. Beitrdge zur Geschichte der griechischen Philosophic 
(1891), 369-390 (der Sophist Hippias von Elis) ; Platonische 
Aufsdtze (1912), 203-237 (on Hippias I and //). 

KRAUS, O. Platons Hippias Minor. (Prague, 1913.) 

DITTMAR, H. Aeschines von Sphettus 1-59 (on the connection 
of the Menexenus with the Aspasia of Aeschines. The 
connection is clearly made out, but I think it an exaggera- 
tion to find the purpose of Plato's dialogue mainly in a 
41 polemic " against Aeschines). 



WE may group the three dialogues which form the subject 
of this chapter together for several reasons. From the 
dramatic point of view all show an advance upon what is 
likely to have been the earliest form of the Platonic dialogue, the 
direct presentation of Socrates in conversation with a single interloc- 
utor. The Lysis and Charmides both profess to be reports of recently 
held conversations given by Socrates to an unnamed friend or friends, 
and thus conform to the type of such masterpieces of literary art 
as the Protagoras and Republic. The fiction that the dialogue is 
reported enables Socrates to draw a highly dramatic picture 
of the persons engaged in the conversation and the circumstances 
in which it is held. This device is not adopted in the Laches, where 
the method of direct reproduction of the conversation is maintained, 
but the same advantage is obtained by adding to the number of the 
interlocutors, so that we have a vivid characterization of three 
persons, two of them notabilities, besides Socrates himself. All three 
dialogues, again, are connected by the fact that they deal with 
Socrates in the special character of older friend and adviser of the 
very young, and two of them, the Charmides and Lysis give us an 
attractive picture of his personal manner as mentor to his young 
friends. In the cases of Charmides and Laches Plato has been 
careful to indicate approximately the period of life to which Socrates 
has attained, and we see that both are meant as pictures of the 
master as he was between the ages of forty and fifty, and thus take 
us back to a time when Plato himself was either an infant or not yet 
born. . tt is closely connected with this that both dialogues, and 
especially the Laches, are pervaded by the atmosphere of the Archi- 
damian war and remind us of the fact that Socrates was, among 
other things, a fighting man. A further point of connexion 
between these two dialogues is, that they are both concerned at 
bottom with a difficulty arising directly out of the Socratic concep- 
tion of virtue as identical with knowledge. Each deals with one 
of the great recognized virtues demanded from a Greek " good 
man " the Charmides with "temperance/ 1 the Laches with " valour " 
or " fortitude " and in both cases the discussion follows the same 
general lines. We are gradually led up to the point of identifying 
the virtue under consideration with knowledge of the good, and then 


left to face the difficulty that the identification seems to involve 
the further identification of this particular virtue with all virtue. 
If valour, for example, is knowledge of the good, how can we con- 
tinue to distinguish the soldier's virtue of valour from any other 
virtue, and what becomes of the popular belief that a man may have 
one virtue in an eminent degree, and yet be deficient in another 
may be, for example, a very brave soldier but very " licentious " ? 
This problem of the " unity of the virtues " forms the starting-point 
for the discussion of the Protagoras, and cannot be said to receive its 
full solution until we come to the Republic. Thus, by raising it, the 
Laches and Charmides prelude directly to what must have been the 
great achievements of Plato's literary prime of manhood ; this is 
an additional reason for holding that they must not be placed among 
his earliest compositions. It is, for example, quite possible, if not 
even probable, that both may be later works than the Gorgias, 
which still retains the method of simple direct reproduction of a 
conversation and, for all its impressive eloquence, shows less insight 
into the more difficult philosophical problems raised by the Socratic 
conception of morality. 

The Charmides. Formally, like several of the dialogues, the 
Charmides has as its object the finding of a definition. To us it 
seems at first pedantic to attach importance, in morals at any rate, 
to mere definitions of the different virtues. A definition, we are 
inclined to think, is at best a matter of names, whereas ethical 
thinking should concern itself directly with " concrete realities." 
If a man recognizes and practises a noble rule of life, it matters very 
little by what name he calls the right act, whether he looks at it as 
an exhibition of courage, or of justice, or of " temperance/ 1 The 
" fine " deed can, in fact, easily be made to wear the semblance of 
any one of these " virtues." This is true enough, but it would be 
out of place as a criticism on the Socratic demand for " definitions " 
in matters of conduct. From the Greek point of view, the problem 
of definition itself is not one of names, but of things. If our moral 
judgment is to be sound, and our moral practice good, we must 
approve and disapprove rightly. We must admire and imitate 
what is really noble, and must not be led into false theory and bad 
practice by confused thinking about good and evil. The problem 
of finding a definition of a " virtue " is at bottom the problem of 
formulating a moral ideal, and it is from this point of view that we 
ought to consider it. The important thing is that we should know 
quite definitely what we admire in conduct and that our admiration 
should be rightly given to the things which are really admirable. 
Failure in finding the definition means that we really do not know 
what we admire, and so long as we do not know this, our moral life 
is at the mercy of sentimental half-thinking. 

The particular virtue selected for discussion is one which bulks 
very large in all Greek thought about the conduct of life the 
beautiful characteristic called by the Greeks sophrosyne, and by the 
Romans temperantia. It is easier to indicate from the usage of the 


language what this moral excellence is, than to find any one name 
for it in our modern English. In literature we find sophrosyne spoken 
of chiefly in the following connexions. As its derivation implies, 
the word means literally the possession of a " sane " or " wholesome " 
mind ; sophrosyne is thus contrasted with the " folly " of the man 
who " forgets himself " in the hour of success and prosperity, and 
" presumes on " his advantages of wealth or power, pushes them 
to the full extreme in his dealings with the less fortunate. Or it 
may equally be contrasted with the " unbalanced " conduct of the 
fanatic who has only one idea in his head, can only see one side of 
a situation and is blind to all the others. In this sense, as the virtue 
opposed to the pride of the man who forgets that the gods can cast 
him down as low as they have raised him high, the recklessness of the 
successful man who forgets that he may himself come to be as much 
at the mercy of another as others are now at his, the pitilessness of 
the fanatic who can only see one side to every question, sophrosyne 
covers very much of what we call humility, humanity, mercy. 
Again, the word is a name for the kind of conduct thought becoming 
specially in the young towards elders, soldiers towards their superior 
officer, citizens towards their magistrates. In this sense it means 
proper modesty and even covers such minor matters as a becoming 
outward deportment in speech and gesture. In still a third sense, 
it is the characteristic of the man who knows how to hold his 
imperious bodily appetites, " the desire for meat and drink and the 
passion of sex," in easy and graceful control, as contrasted with the 
man who offends us by unseemly and untimely greed of these 
appetitive enjoyments. In this aspect, sophrosyne is what in good 
English is still called " temperance," if we take care to remember 
that it is part of the virtue itself that it is not the imperfect self- 
restraint of the man who holds himself in check ungracefully and 
with difficulty, but the easy and natural self-restraint of the man 
who enjoys being " temperate." x If it does not seem an affectation 
to use such a phrase, we may say that sophrosyne is the spirit of the 

ophrosyne is the spirit of 
e insinuates, 2 a " monkis 

" disciplined life. It is not, as Hume insinuates, 2 a " monkish " 
virtue, except in the sense that you certainly cannot be a good 
monk without it. Neither, as Hume forgot, can you be a good 
soldier, and that is why in the Laws 3 Plato throws sophrosyne 
and valour together, and insists that the former is the major and 
the harder part of the lesson every good " fighting man " has to 
master. The very wide range of the use of the word in literature 
goes a long way to explain the importance Socrates attaches to a 
clear and coherent statement of its meaning, and the difficulty the 
company have in producing such a statement. The introductory 
narrative provides an opportunity for a clear indication of the date 
1 Hence Aristotle's sharp distinction throughout the Ethics between the 

<rc60po;*> and the ^par^y or morally " strong " man in whom judgment and 
" will " in the Elizabethan sense are at variance though he habitually 
compels himself to follow judgment. 

2 Inquiry into the Principles of Morals, Section IX. Part I. 

1 Laws, 


at which the conversation is supposed to take place. Socrates has 
been serving before the walls of Potidaea, in the campaign of the 
year 431 with which hostilities between Athens and the members 
of the Peloponnesian confederacy opened, and has just returned safe 
and sound, after having displayed his courage and coolness in 
danger, as we learn from the Symposium, 1 by saving the life of Alci- 
biades. He is then a man of some forty years (Plato, we must 
remember, is not yet born). He goes direct, on his arrival, to his 
"wonted haunts," the palaestrae, and begins at once to ask ques- 
tions about the way in which " philosophy and the young people " 
have been faring in his absence on service (Charm. 153^). (This, 
we observe, implies that the interest of young men of promise in 
Socrates as a wise counsellor was already a reality, eight years before 
Aristophanes burlesqued these relations in the Clouds.) Critias, 
cousin of Plato's mother, afterwards to be unhappily known as a 
leader of the violently reactionary party in the " provisional 
government " set up after the capitulation of Athens to Lysander, 
but at present simply a young man of parts but with a touch of 
forwardness and self-confidence, thereupon promises to introduce 
Socrates to his own cousin Charmides (Plato's uncle, subsequently 
associated with Critias and his party as the head of the commission 
set up to dominate the Piraeeus), as a lad of exceptional promise. 2 
Socrates had already seen him as a mere child, but he has now grown 
to be a youth of wonderful beauty and equally wonderful sophrosyne. 
It is agreed that Socrates shall have some conversation with the 
lad and judge of him for himself. 

Socrates leads up playfully to his real purpose, the examination 
of the boy's spiritual state. Charmides has been complaining of 
headaches. Socrates professes to have brought back from his 
northern campaign a wonderful remedy which he has learned from 
a Thracian. 8 The Thracian, however, had explained that not only 
can you not treat a local disorder properly without treating the 
patient's whole body, you cannot treat the body successfully 
without treating the soul, which is the real seat of health and disease. 
Hence Socrates is under a promise not to practise the recipe against 
headache on anyone who is not spiritually sound in constitution. 
It would be useless if employed on a subject with a deep-seated 
spiritual disorder. Sophrosyne is presupposed in spiritual health ; 
before Charmides can be treated for his headaches, then, we must 
find out whether he has sophrosyne (Charm. 155^-158^). Now if a 
man has this or any other character of soul, it must, of course, make 

1 Symposium, 219-220. 

f According to Xenophon (Mem. iii. 7, i), it was Socrates himself who 
first persuaded Charmides to enter public life. But this looks like a mere 
inference from what is said in our dialogue of the modest and retiring disposi- 
tion of Charmides in boyhood. If the fact were so, it is singular that no one 
ever seems to have accused Socrates of " corrupting " Charmides, though he 
was made responsible for Critias and Alcibiades. 

8 For the reputation of Thrace as a home of this kind of lore it was the 
land of Orpheus, we must remember cf. Eurip. Ale. 986 ff. 


its presence felt, and its possessor will therefore have an opinion of 
some kind about its nature. (It is not meant, of course, that the 
possessor of the character need have a " clear and distinct idea " of 
it, but only that he must have some acquaintance with it ; language 
about it will have some meaning for him, exactly as language about 
.sight or hearing will mean something to anyone who can see or hear, 
though it would be meaningless to beings born blind or deaf.) Thus 
we are led to the question what kind of thing Charmides takes 
sophrosyne to be. As is natural in a mere lad, Charmides fixes first of 
all on an exterior characteristic, and equally naturally it is a charac- 
teristic of sophrosyne in the form which would be most familiar to 
a boy the form of decent and modest bearing towards one's elders 
and " good behaviour " generally. One shows sophrosyne by walking, 
talking, doing things generally, in an " orderly and quiet " fashion ; 
so perhaps we may say that it is " a sort of quietness " (V^X"* 1 " 1 ? 5 )* 
a " slowness " which may be contrasted with undignified and un- 
graceful " hurry " (159^). This, of course, is true, so far as it goes, 
only it does not go very far. There is a " hurry " which means that 
one's limbs or one's tongue are not really under control as they should 
be. But we want to get behind such mere outward indications to 
the interior condition of soul from which they spring ; and besides, 
clearly " slowness," " deliberateness," does not always arise from 
being " master of one's soul." As Socrates says, in the various 
physical and mental accomplishments it is what is readily and 
quickly done, not what is done slowly and with difficulty, that is 
" well " or " fairly " (*aAs) done. He who reads or writes, or 
wrestles or boxes well, does these things quickly ; he who can only 
make the proper movements slowly does not do them well. So 
with accomplishments of the mind. A fine memory or judgment or 
invention is a quick, not a slow, memory or judgment or invention. 
Now it is admitted that sophrosyne, whatever it is, is something 
" fine " (Ka\6v). Clearly then it cannot be right to fix on " slow- 
ness " as what is specially distinctive of sophrosyne (1590-160^). 
The point is that, in small things as well as in great, the man who 
is master of his soul is free from " hurry." There is, in a sense, a 
spacious leisureliness about his behaviour. But this freedom from 
" haste " and " hurry " is not the same thing as slowness : slowness 
may be, and often is, a mere consequence of awkwardness, of not 
being master of yourself. 

Charmides next makes a suggestion which shows a real attempt 
to get behind the externals of behaviour to the spirit and temper 
they reveal. Sophrosyne makes a man quick to feel shame, and 
perhaps it is the same thing as modesty (cuSok, 1602). The boy 
is still clearly thinking of the form in which sophrosyne would be 
most familiar to a well-bred boy the sense of being " on one's best 
behaviour " in the presence of one's parents, one's elders, and in 
general of those to whom respect is due. (We may compare Kant's 
well-known comparison of the reverence for the moral law which is, 
according to him, the specific ethical feeling, with the sense of restraint 


we feel in the presence of an exalted or impressive personage the 
sort of feeling an ordinary man would have if he were suddenly sum- 
moned to an interview with the King or the Pope. There is a real 
analogy between the two things ; as Kant says, our feeling in both 
cases is primarily one of inhibition or restraint. You don't " loll ' 
in the King's presence, and a good man is not " free and easy " in 
the presence of a moral obligation.) But again, the analogy is only 
an analogy, not an identity. Sophrosyne cannot be simply identified 
with shamefacedness (aurxvwj) or modesty (utSws). 1 For, by 
general consent, it is something which is always not merely " fine " 
(/caXoi/) but good (uyaflov), and there is a false modesty which is not 
good. As Homer says, " Modesty is not good in a beggar." (Cf. 
the Scots saying, " Dinna let yer modesty wrang ye.") The shame or 
modesty which makes a man too bashful to tell his full need on the 
proper occasion is not good, but sop hro syne is always good (i6oe- 

This leads to a third suggestion which is more important than 
any we have yet met. Charmides has heard some one it is hinted 
that this some one is Critias say that sophrosyne means " attending 
to one's own matters " (TO ra eavroi) TrparreiK, i6i6), 2 and this, 
perhaps, may be the true account. It does obviously present one 
advantage. The formula is a strictly universal one, applicable to 
the whole conduct of life in all its different " ages," not merely to 
the kind of conduct appropriate to the young in particular. In a 
boy the shyness, or backwardness, of which we have just been speak- 
ing is a laudable thing, and "forwardness " a fault, but " shyness " 
is far from being a laudable characteristic in a grown man. But 
at any age of life it is laudable to " mind your own affairs " and 
censurable to be a " meddler " or busybody. Unfortunately, as 
Socrates goes on to point out, the phrase " to attend to one's own 
matters " is so ambiguous that the new suggestion is something of 
a " conundrum " ; we have to guess, if we can, what its author may 
have meant (i6id). Clearly he cannot have meant that a man 
should only read and write his own name and no one else's, or that 
the builder or the physician should build his own house or cure his 
own body and no other, on pain of being noted for a " meddler." 
Life would be intolerable to a community where the rule was that 
every one should " attend to his own matters " in the sense that he 
must "do everything for himself" (i6ie). The alleged saying, 
then, is what we called it, a pure conundrum. In the Republic, as 

1 Strictly, ald&s is the name for laudable modesty, alaxvv-r) for the back- 
wardness which is not laudable, mauvaise honte. But the words are freely 
treated as interchangeable. 

2 rb TO, toLvrov irpdrrciv is the conduct which is the opposite of rb Tro\virpa.ynove'iv t 
" having a finger in everyone's pie." In Attic life iro\vTrpayfio<njvrj would show 
itself, e.g., in that tendency to quarrel with one's neighbours and drag them 
into law-suits about trifles which Aristophanes regularly ascribes to his petits 
bourgeois. Hence ATrpdypuv is in Attic sometimes an epithet of censure 
" inert," " lazy " but often one of approval " a quiet decent man," a man 
who " keeps himself to himself." 


we all know, this very phrase " to mind one's own matters " is 
adopted as an adequate definition not merely of one type of " virtue," 
but of StKatocruViy, " right-doing/' the fundamental principle of 
the whole moral life. There is no inconsistency between the two 
dialogues. The point made in the Charmides is simply that the 
phrase as it stands, without further explanation leaves us in the 
dark. In the Republic the necessary explanation has been supplied 
by the educational theory and moral psychology which precede its 
introduction, so that when we come to it, it has a very definite 
significance, and is seen at once to embody the whole content of the 
Socratic ideal that a man's business in life is the " tendance of his 
soul." If it had been sprung upon us, without this preparation, in 
the course of Republic i. as an answer to the ethical nihilism of 
Thrasymachus, it would then have been exactly what Socrates 
calls it in the Charmides & conundrum. 

The defence of the proposed definition is now taken up by 
Critias. He replies to the objection of Socrates by making a dis- 
tinction between " doing " (TO Trparrciv, TO Ipydfca-Oai) and " making " 
(TO TToicti/). The shoemaker " makes " shoes for his customers, but 
in " making " their shoes he is " doing " his own work. The 
shoes he makes are not his own shoes, but the making of them is 
his " own " trade or work. Here again we are dealing with a real 
and important distinction ; in the Republic we shall learn the true 
significance of the conception of a " work " or " vocation " which 
is a man's " own/' not because the products of it are to be his " own " 
property for his own exclusive use, but because it is the contribution 
he and no one else can make to the " good life." Critias has not, 
however, thought out the implications of his own distinction, and 
goes wrong from the start by an elementary confusion of ideas. 
He appeals in support of the distinction to the saying of Hesiod that 
" no work is disgraceful," x on which he puts a glaringly false inter- 
pretation. Hesiod, he says, cannot have meant that no occupation 
is a base one, for there are base trades like those of the shoemaker 
and fishmonger, not to mention worse ones. By " work " Hesiod 
must have meant " making what is honourable and useful," and 
similarly, when we say that sophrosyne is " minding your own 
matters " or " doing your own work " we mean that it is doing what 
is " honourable and useful " (i6^b-c). 

We might expect that Socrates would fasten at once on the 
obvious weakness of this definition ; it presupposes that we already 
know what we mean by " good and useful." We should then be 
led direct to the conclusion which it is part of Plato's purpose to 
drive home, that we cannot really know the character of sophrosyne 

1 tpyov 5' Mkv tfmSos (Hesiod, O.D. 311). Xenophon (Mem. i. 2, 56-57) 
states that Socrates was fond of the saying, apparently taking it in the sense 
that " honest work is no disgrace." His " accuser " twisted it to mean that 
no one need feel ashamed of anything he does. Comparison with the similar 
charges of getting an immoral sense out of the poets considered in the 
Apologia Socratis of Libanius, seems to show that what Xenophon has in view 
is the pamphlet of Polycrates against Socrates. 


or any other virtue until we know what good and evil are, and when 
we know that we have answered the question what virtue is. In 
point of fact, Socrates prefers to make an unexpected deviation 
from the direct line of the argument, which raises a still more general 
issue, and apparently takes us out of the sphere of ethics into that 
of epistemology. The length of this section shows that it is meant 
to be the most important division of the dialogue, and we shall need 
therefore to consider it with some care. 

According to the explanation of Critias, a physician who cures 
his patient is doing something good and useful for both himself and 
the patient and is therefore acting with sophrosyne. But he need 
not know that he is doing what is " good and useful." (The physi- 
cian cannot be sure that he will really be the better, or that his 
patient will be the better, for his services. It might be better for 
the patient that he should die, or for the physician that he should 
not make the income he does make.) Thus it would seem that a 
man may have sophrosyne without being aware that he has it 
(1640-0). This would not only seem inconsistent with the assump- 
tion Socrates had made at the beginning of his conversation with 
Charmides, but also flatly contradicts the generally accepted view, 
with which Critias agrees, that sophrosyne actually is the same thing 
as " self-knowledge." (The thought, of course, is that " sanity of 
mind " is precisely a true understanding of yourself, your strength 
and your weaknesses, your real situation in relation to gods and 
men, the kind of self-knowledge which was inculcated by the Nosce 
teipsnm l inscription in the Delphic temple.) We thus find ourselves 
embarked on a double question : (i) Is self-knowledge possible at all ? 
(2) If it is, is it profitable ; has it any bearing on the practical conduct 
of life ? Or again : (i) What is the object apprehended by self- 
knowledge ? (2) What is the result it produces ? 

The second question is met by Critias with the reply that self- 
knowledge, like such " sciences " or " arts " as arithmetic and 
geometry, and unlike such " sciences " or " arts " as building or 
weaving, has no " product/' This is, in untechnical language, the 
distinction which is more clearly drawn in the Politicus and finally 
takes technical form in Aristotle as the distinction between " specu- 
lative " knowledge, which has no further end than the perfecting of 
itself, and " practical " knowledge, which has always an ulterior 
end, the making of some thing or the doing of some act. Critias 
is unconsciously assuming first that self-knowledge is cVurrwn? or 
re'xi'Tj, knowledge of universal rules or principles of some kind, and 
next that it is " speculative," not " practical " science. The result 
is that he is virtually confusing the direct acquaintance with one's 
own individual strength and weaknesses really meant in the Delphian 
inscription with the " science " of the psychologist. He is taking it 
for granted, as too many among ourselves still do, that to know 
psychology and to have a profound acquaintance with your own 
1 heart " are the same thing (Charm. i6$d-e.) Socrates lets this 

1 yv&Ot ffavr6f. 



confusion of " direct acquaintance " with " knowledge about " go 
uncriticized, because his immediate purpose is to raise a more general 
issue, one which concerns not the effect of knowledge, but the object 
apprehended. In all other cases, he urges, that which is appre- 
hended by a " knowledge " or " science " is something different 
from the knowing or apprehending itself. Arithmetic for example 
is knowledge of " the even and odd," as we should say, of the 
characters of the integers. But " the even and odd " are not the 
same thing as the knowing which has them for its object. (In fact, 
of course, arithmetic is a mental activity, the integers and their 
properties are not.) We shall find the same distinction between the 
" knowing " and the object known in the case of any other " know- 
ledge " we like to take (i66a-b). Critias admits the truth of this 
in general, but asserts that there is one solitary exception. The self- 
knowledge of which he had spoken is this exception ; it is quite 
literally a knowing which " knows itself and all other knowledges/' 
and the virtue sophrosyne is no other than this " knowing which 
knows itself " (i66c). In effect this amounts to identifying soph- 
rosyne with what is called in modern times " theory of knowledge/' 

We proceed to test this thesis in the true Socratic way by 
asking what consequences would follow from it. It would follow 
that the man who has sophrosyne would know what he knows and 
what he does not know but merely " fancies " (otcrat), and also 
what other men know and what they only " fancy." Let us once 
more put our double question, Is such knowledge as this possible, and 
if it is, is it of any benefit to us ? 

There is a grave difficulty even about its possibility. For, in all 
other cases, we find that a mental activity is always directed on 
some object other than itself. Sight and hearing do not see or 
hear sight or hearing ; they see colours and hear sounds. Desire 
is never " desire of desire " but always desire of a pleasant object ; 
we do not wish for "wishing " but for good. What we love is not 
" loving " but a beloved person, what we fear, not fear but some 
formidable thing, and so forth. That is, it is characteristic of 
mental activities of all kinds that they are directed upon an object 
other than themselves (1670-168^). It would'be at least " singular " 
(aroTTov) if there should be a solitary exception to this principle, a 
" knowing " which is not the knowing of a science (/m0^a) of some 
kind,' but the " knowing of itself and the other knowings " (i68a). 
Knowing, in fact, is always a knowing of something, and so relative 
to an object known ; its " faculty " is to be of something (1686), and 
so where there is knowing there must be a known object, just as 
where there is a " greater than " there must always be a " less " 
than which the greater is greater. Hence, if there is anything which 
is greater than itself, it must also be less than itself ; if anything 
which is double of itself, it must also be half itself, and so on. If 
" seeing " can see itself, "seeing " itself must be coloured. Some of 
these consequences are patently absurd, e.g. that there should be a 
number which is greater than, and by consequence also less than 


itself ; if it is not so obvious that seeing cannot see itself, and that sight, 
by consequence, is not a colour, the position is at any rate difficult to 
accept. It would require a great philosopher to decide the question 
whether any activity can be its own object, and if so, whether this 
is the case with the activity of knowing, and we have not the 
genius needed to determine the point (1686-1696). But in any case, 
we may say that such a supposed " knowing of knowing " cannot be 
what men mean by sophrosyne unless it can be shown that it would 
be " beneficial " to us, as sophrosyne admittedly is (1696-0). 

(So far then, the point of the argument has been the perfectly 
sound one that no mental activity is its own object. Manifestly 
this is true of the knowing of the epistemologist, as much as of any 
other activity. If there is such a science as the " theory of know- 
ledge/' its object will be " the conditions under which knowledge is 
possible." But these conditions are not the same thing as anyone's 
knowing about them. The doctrines of the Critique of Pure Reason, 
for example, are one thing and Kant's knowing or believing these 
doctrines is another.) 

We can now take a further step. Let us concede, for the pur- 
poses of argument, that there is such a thing as a " knowing of 
knowing." Even if there is, it is not the same thing as " knowing 
what you know and what you do not know," and therefore is not the 
self-knowledge with which Critias has been trying to identify 
sophrosyne. Critias does not readily take in the distinction, which 
has therefore to be made gradually clearer by illustrations. Sup- 
pose a man to " know about knowing," what will this knowledge 
really tell him ? It will tell him that " this is knowledge " and " that 
is not knowledge," i.e. that this proposition is true, that proposition 
is not certainly true. But to know so much and no more would 
certainly not be enough for the purposes of the practitioner in 
medicine and statesmanship. The physician needs not merely to 
know that " I know such and such a proposition," he needs to know 
that the true proposition in question is relevant to the treatment of 
his patients. In other words, it is not enough for him to know 
what knowledge is, he needs to know what health is, and the states- 
man similarly must know not merely what knowledge is, but what 
right is. Ex hypothesi they will not learn this from a science which 
has knowledge as its object, but from medicine, of which the object 
is health in the body, or from politics, which knows about " right." 
Thus we must not say that the man who has only " knowledge of 
knowledge " will know what he knows and what he does not ; we 
may only say that that he will know the bare fact that he knows or 
does not know. (The meaning is, for example, that a man who was 
a mere epistemologist and nothing more might be aware that when 
he says, " So many grains of arsenic are fatal, " he is saying something 
which satisfies all the conditions required for genuine scientific 
knowledge ; but, if he only knew epistemology and nothing else, 
he would not even know that he must not administer fatal doses of 
arsenic to his fellow-men.) Thus if sophrosyne is the same thing as 


a " knowledge of knowledge, " the man who has it will not be helped 
by it to distinguish a genuine practitioner from a pretender in 
medicine or in anything else. To distinguish the true physician 
from the quack, you need to know not epistemology, the " know- 
ledge of knowledge," but medicine, the " knowledge of things 
wholesome and unwholesome." The true judge of medical theory 
and practice is not the epistemologist but the medical specialist, and 
no one else (i6gd-ijic). And this conclusion seems to dispose of 
the worth of sophrosyne, if we were right in identifying it with a 
" knowledge of knowledge." A self-knowledge which taught us to 
know, in the first instance, our own strength and weakness, and, in 
the second place, the strength and weakness of others, and so 
enabled us to be on our guard against self-delusion and imposture, 
would be of the highest value for the conduct of life. But we have 
just seen that all that the epistemologist as such could possibly 
tell about himself or anyone else would be merely whether he really 
knew epistemology (1710-0). 

The point to which all this leads us up is manifestly that though 
sophrosyne is a knowledge of something, it cannot be a " knowledge 
about knowledge," nor can this be what was really meant by those 
who have insisted on self-knowledge as the one thing needful for a 
happy life. It is clearly indicated that the sort of knowledge of 
ourselves really needed as a guide to practice is knowledge of good and 
evil and of the state of our souls in respect of them, a view which 
would immediately lead to the further result that all the genuine 
virtues are at bottom one and the same thing, knowledge of the good, 
and the distinctions commonly made between the different types 
of virtue at best conventional. (It is incidentally a further valuable 
result of the argument that it has vindicated the autonomy of the 
various sciences by exposing the pretensions of the " theory of 
knowledge " to judge of scientific truths on a priori grounds, and 
making it clear that in every case there is no appeal from the verdict 
of the expert in a specific science, so long as he claims to be the final 
authority in his own speciality.) 

The main purpose of the discussion becomes apparent when we 
reach its final section. Even if we waive all the difficulties we have 
raised, and admit that sophrosyne really is a " knowledge of know- 
ledge," and that such a knowledge is, (as we just said that it is 
not,) " knowing what we do know and what we do not," would this 
supposed knowledge be of any value for the direction of life ? 
It is clear, of course, that if we had such a knowledge, and directed 
our actions by it, everything would be done " scientifically " (Kara 
ras 7nor?7/Aas, ITTICTT ^ovwi) . Our medical men, our soldiers, our 
sailors, all our craftsmen in fact, would be real experts ; lives would 
not be lost by the blunders of the incompetent physician or strategist 
or navigator, clothes would not be spoiled by the bungling of their 
makers ; we may even imagine that " prophecy " might be made 
" scientific," and that we could thus have confident anticipations of 
the future, and, if you like, we may suppose ourselves equally 


correctly informed about the past (a suggestion which curiously 
recalls Du Bois-Reymond's fanciful picture of his omniscient 
" demon " l ). But we should be none the happier for all this know- 
ledge unless we had something more which we have not yet men- 
tioned knowledge of good. Without this we might know all about 
healing the sick, sailing the sea, winning battles, but we should not 
know when it is good that a sick man should recover, or that a 
vessel should come safe to port, or a battle be won. If our life is to 
be truly happy, it is this knowledge of our good which must take 
the direction of it; apart from that knowledge, we may be able to 
secure the successful accomplishment of various results, but we 
cannot make sure that anything will be " well and beneficially " done. 
But sophrosyne by our assumed definition is not this knowledge of 
good ; even when we waived all other difficulties about it, we still 
retained the thesis that it is a " knowledge about knowledges," a 
" science of sciences." Thus sophrosyne seems to fall between two 
stools ; it is not the knowledge of good which would really ensure 
happiness. It is not even a knowledge which will ensure that the 
practitioners of the various " arts " shall be experts and practise their 
callings with success ; for we have just seen that it is the specialist 
in each department and not the man who knows the " theory of 
knowledge " who is the final judge in his own department. Sophro- 
syne, if we accept the proposed definition of it, even with the most 
favourable interpretation, thus seems to be of no practical value 
whatever (171^-1750) . Yet this conclusion is so extravagantly para- 
doxical that it clearly cannot be sound. We can only suppose that the 
fault is with ourselves ; our notions on the subject must be hopelessly 
confused. This is unfortunate, as it makes it impossible to employ 
the Thracian's recipe for the cure of Charmides, but there is no help 
for it. (Of course, the real, as distinct from the dramatic, conclusion 
has already been reached in the suggestion that what is really needed 
for the direction of life is the knowledge of good, and that this know- 
ledge is something quite different from any of the recognized special 
" sciences " or " arts." The purpose of the dialogue is to show that 
serious examination of the implications of the current conceptions 
of sophrosyne conducts us straight to the two famous Socratic "para- 
doxes " of the unity of virtue and its identity with knowledge of good.) 
The Laches. The Laches, which we may now treat more briefly, 
aims at reaching these same results by starting with the current 
conceptions of the great fighting-man's virtue courage or valour 
or fortitude. As in the Charmides, the discussion is accompanied by 
an interesting introduction which enables us to refer it to a definite 
period in the life of Socrates. Lysimachus and Melesias, the un- 
distinguished sons of two of the greatest Athenians of the early fifth 
century, Aristides " the just " and Thucydides, the rival of Pericles, 
are both anxious that their own sons should rise to distinction, and 
therefore that they should receive the careful education which 

1 Du Bois-Reymond, Ueber die Grenzen des Naturerkennens, 178. ; Ward, 
Naturahsm and Agnosticism, i. 40 ff. (ed. i). 


their own parents were prevented by their preoccupation with 
public affairs from bestowing on themselves. They have just wit- 
nessed a public exhibition given by one Stesilaus, who professes to 
be able to teach the art and mystery of fighting in full armour, and 
have brought with them two of the most famous military men of 
the day, Laches and Nicias, in order to get their opinion on the 
advisability of putting the lads under such an instructor. 

Socrates also has been present at the display, and at the recom- 
mendation of Laches, who witnessed and highly admired his 
presence of mind and courage in the disastrous retreat of the 
Athenian forces from Delium (424 B.C.), he is taken into consultation 
(Laches, i8oa-b). It now comes out that Sophroniscus, the father 
of Socrates, had been a lifelong friend of Lysimachus, and that 
Socrates himself is a person of whom Lysimachus has heard the boys 
speak as an object of great interest to themselves and their young 
companions (iSod-e). Laches, as it comes out later, knows nothing 
of him except his admirable behaviour on the field of Delium (1880), 
but Nicias is perfectly familiar with him and his habit of turning 
every conversation into a searching examination of the state of his 
interlocutor's soul (187^-1886). These allusions enable us to date 
the supposed conversation pretty accurately. It falls after Delium 
in 424, but not long after, since it is assumed that Laches, who 
fell at Mantinea in 418, is still burdened by the cares of public 
office (iSya-b). The references to the comparative poverty of 
Socrates it is not said to be more than comparative (i86c) 
may remind us that Aristophanes and Amipsias both made this 
a prominent feature in their burlesques of him (the Clouds of 
Aristophanes and the Connus of Amipsias), produced in 423. It 
points to the same general date that the two old men should be 
thinking of the speciality of Stesilaus as the thing most desirable 
to be acquired by their sons. After the peace of Nicias, which 
was expected to put an end to the struggle between Athens and 
the Peloponnesian Confederation, it would not be likely that 
fathers anxious to educate their sons well should think at once of 
6nlona%ia as the most promising branch of education. We thus 
have to think of the conversation as occurring just about the time 
when Aristophanes produced his delightful caricature of Socrates 
as a guide of youth ; Socrates is a man of rather under fifty ; 
Nicias and Laches, as Plato is careful to remind us (181^), are older 
men, and Lysimachus and Melesias quite old and ' ' out of the world. ' ' * 

The two military experts, as it happens, are of different minds 

1 The same approximate date is suggested by the allusion to the famous 
Damonides, or Damon, of Oea. Nicias expresses gratitude to Socrates for 
having procured an introduction to Damon for his son Niceratus. Laches 
professes to think Damon a mere spinner of words and phrases, but Nicias 
retorts that it is not for him to judge, since he has never even met the man 
(2006). The assumption is that Damon is living in retirement from society 
generally. Since he was one of the two " sophists " who " educated " Pericles 
(Isocr. xv. 235), he must have been bora, like his colleague Anaxagoras, about 
500 B.C., so that his advanced age will account for his seclusion. 


about the practical value of the proposed instruction in the conduct 
of spear and shield. Nicias, who is represented all through as the 
more intellectual of the two, is inclined to recommend it on the 
grounds that a soldier needs to know how to handle his weapons, 
that he is likely to find skill of fence serviceable in actual fighting, 
that it may awaken in him an interest in other branches of the 
military art, such as strategy, finally that the training produces 
grace and agility and banishes awkwardness (i8ie-i82d). Laches, 
a brave fighting-man with no intellectual capacity, takes a different 
view. He holds that the " proof of the pudding is the eating of it." 
There cannot be much in this technical skill, for we see that the 
Spartans, who ought to be the best judges of things military, set 
no store by its professors, and the professors themselves avoid 
Sparta like the plague. They reap their harvest from communities 
who, by their own admission, are backward in warfare. (This is an 
excellent little bit of dramatic characterization ; Laches is mentally 
too dull to see the obvious explanation that the professionals take 
their wares to the market where the need for them is likely to be 
most felt.) Besides, in actual warfare, the professional masters of 
fence never distinguish themselves. 1 Laches remembers having 
seen this very professor make himself a laughing-stock by his clumsy 
handling of a complicated weapon of his own forging (182^-1840). 

In this disagreement of the experts, Socrates is now called upon 
to give the decisive opinion. But, as he says, a question of this 
kind is not to be settled by a majority of votes. The deciding voice 
should be left to the expert, the man who really knows, even if he 
were found to be in a minority of one. But who is the expert to 
whom we ought to appeal in the present case ? Not the mere expert 
or connoisseur in O7r\o/xa^t'a. The problem is really concerned with 
the " tendance " of the young people's souls, and the expert to 
whom we must appeal is therefore the expert in " tending " his 
own soul, the man who can achieve " goodness " in himself and, by 
his influence, produce it in others (iS^a-e). Now, if a man really is 
an expert, he may take either of two ways of convincing us of his 
claims. If he has learned his skill from others, he can tell us who 
his teachers were, and convince us that they were competent. 2 If 
he has picked it up for himself, as expert knowledge is often picked 
up, he can point to its results, he can give us examples of persons 
who have been made better by his influence on them (iS6a-b). 
Socrates confesses himself to be no expert, but maliciously suggests 
that the case may be different with the two generals. They are 
richer than he, and may have been able to pay " sophists " for in- 
struction in the art of " tending the soul " ; they are older and more 
experienced, and so may have discovered the secret for themselves 

1 In the Republic Socrates himself is made to propose a training for his 
young men from which all specialism of this kind is expressly excluded 
(Rep. iii. 4040 ff.). 

* We shall see the full significance of this when we come to examine the 


(1860). At any rate, they must be experts, or they could not 
pronounce on a question in which only the expert is competent 
with such confidence and readiness. (The insinuation, of course, is 
that, as we might expect from their disagreement, neither is a real 
" expert " ; both are talking about what they do not understand.) 

We may, however, contrive to avoid the demand for direct 
evidence that there is an expert among us. For if a man really 
knows what, e.g., good sight is, and how to produce it in a patient, he 
can tell us what sight is ; if he cannot, he is manifestly not a specialist 
in the treatment of the eye. So, in the present case, the man whose 
judgment we need is the expert in " goodness," which makes our 
souls better souls. If a man cannot even say what goodness is, it 
would be waste of time to take his advice on the kind of education 
which will produce it. Thus the original question whose judgment 
is authoritative in the problem of education may be replaced by the 
question who knows what goodness is. And this question may be, 
for convenience, further narrowed down. For our present purpose, 
judging of the worth of the art of the professional teacher of skill 
with shield and spear, it will be sufficient to consider only one 
" part " of goodness courage or valour. A competent judge on 
the question whether the accomplishment makes its possessor a 
better soldier must at least be able to say what courage is (189^- 
1900) . We have now got our ethical question fairly posed : What is 
it that we really mean to be talking about when we speak of dy3pa'a 
manliness, valour, courage as one of the indispensable points of 
manhood ? Laches, the less thoughtful of the two professional 
soldiers, thinks that any man can answer so simple a question 
off-hand. " A man who keeps his place in the ranks in the presence 
of the enemy, does his best to repel them, and never turns his back 
there is a brave man for you " (1900). Thus, just as in the Char- 
mides, we start with a proposed definition of an interior state of soul 
which confuses the state itself with one of its common and customary 
outward expressions. The further course of the discussion will 
reveal the double defectiveness of this formula. It is not even 
adequate as a description of the conduct of the fighting-man himself, 
and fighting is far from being the only business in life which demands 
the same qualities as those we expect from the good soldier. As 
usual, Plato is anxious to insist upon the real identity of the spiritual 
state under the great apparent variety of its outward manifestations. 
To discover that other occupations than those of warfare also call 
for the " soldierly " virtues is a long step towards discovering the 
essential unity of the " virtues " themselves. 

Even Laches is ready to admit at once that a feigned withdrawal 
is a proper manoeuvre in warfare, as is shown by the practice of 
the Scythians, the pretended retreat by which the Lacedaemonians 
drew the Persians from their defences at Plataea, and other 
examples (iqia-c) . He is even ready to allow that fighting is not the 
only situation in which courage may be shown. A man may show 
himself a brave man or a coward by the way he faces danger at sea, 


poverty, disease, the risks of political life ; again, bravery and 
cowardice may be shown as much in resistance to the seductions 
of pleasure and the importunities of desire as in facing or shirking 
pain or danger, a consideration which, incidentally, shows the arti- 
ficial nature of the popular distinction between valour, the virtue of 
war, and sophrosyne, the virtue of peace and non-combatants 
(191^-0). (It is this passage of the Laches which Aristotle has in 
view in the Ethics where he distinguishes valour in the " primary " 
sense of the word from the very kind of conduct here called by the 
name. 1 The disagreement, however, is a purely verbal one. Aris- 
totle does not mean to deny that the qualities in question are indis- 
pensable to the good life, nor that there is a close analogy between 
them and the quality of the soldier, which justifies a " transference " 
of the name valour to them. He is concerned simply, in the interests 
of precise terminology, to insist that when we speak of " putting up 
a good fight " against disease, financial distress, temptation, and the 
like, we are using language which originally was appropriated to the 
actual " fighting " of actual soldiers, and Aristotle's purpose in 
giving the series of character-sketches which make up this section 
of the Ethics requires that he shall describe the various " virtues " 
in the guise in which they are most immediately recognizable by 
popular thought.) 

Now that he sees the point, Laches replies very readily that 
there is a certain spirit or temper which is to be found universally 
in all the examples of courageous behaviour Socrates has produced. 
They are all cases in which a man " persists " in the face of opposi- 
tion or risk of some kind. Hence he proposes as the definition of 
courage that it is in all cases a certain Kaprept'a, " persistence/' 
" endurance/' " sticking to one's purpose " (igzc). This definition 
clearly has some of the qualities of a good definition. When you 
speak of courage as a " persistence of soul/' just as when we com- 
monly use the word " resolution " as a synonym for it, you are 
really trying to indicate the spirit which underlies all the manifold 
expressions of the quality. And it is, of course, true that persistence 
or resolution is a characteristic of courage ; the brave man is one 
who " sticks it out." But, as a definition, the formula is still too 
wide. All courage may be persistence, but all persistence is not 
courage. In the technical logical language which makes its appear- 
ance in Plato's later dialogues, we need to know the " difference " 2 
which discriminates persistence which is courage from persistence 
which is not. Since unwise persistence, mere obstinacy, is a bad and 
harmful thing, whereas we certainly mean by courage something 
we regard as eminently good, it looks as though we might remedy 
the defect of our formula by saying that " wise persistence " 
(<t>p6vip.os /caprepia) is courage (192^). But the question now arises 
what wisdom we mean. A man may wisely calculate that by per- 
sisting in expenditure he will make a commercial profit, but we 
should hardly regard this as an example of courage. When a 

1 E.N. Ui. 6, 11150 7 ff. * hafopd, Sia<pop6rris (Theaetet. 2oSd ff.) 


physician persists in refusing the entreaties of his patient for food 
which he knows would be bad for the patient, we do not think the 
physician has shown any particular courage. In warfare, we do 
not commend the courage of a force which " holds out " because it 
knows that it is superior in numbers and still has the stronger 
position and is certain of reinforcement. It is just the " per- 
sistence " of an inferior force, with a worse position and no hope 
of relief, that impresses us as singularly courageous. So we think 
more of the courage of the man who acquits himself well in the 
cavalry though is he an unskilled rider, or the man who makes a 
plucky dive into deep water though he is a poor swimmer, than we 
do of the persistence of the man who acquits himself well because he 
has mastered these accomplishments. (E.g., we think Monmouth's 
raw countrymen showed great courage at Sedgemoor in putting up 
a fight against the Household troops ; we do not commend the 
courage of the Household troops because they " held out " against 
a crowd of peasants.) This looks as if, after all, it is " unwise " 
persistence (afow /capreprjo-is) rather than " wise " which is the true 
courage. We have plainly not found the right formula yet, and shall 
have to call on ourselves for the very quality of which we have been 
speaking, " persistence " in the inquiry, if we are to approve our- 
selves " courageous " thinkers (1920-1940). We must not miss the 
point of this difficulty. Socrates does not seriously mean to suggest 
that " unwise " resolution or persistence is courage. His real object 
is to distinguish the " wisdom " meant by the true statement that 
courage is " wise resolution " from specialist knowledge which 
makes the taking of a risk less hazardous. The effect of specialist 
knowledge of this kind is, in fact, to make the supposed risk unreal. 
The man whom we admire because we suppose him to be rightly 
taking a great risk is, in reality, as he himself knows, taking little or 
no risk. Our belief in his courage is based on an illusion which he 
does not share. But it is true that we do not regard the " unwise " 
persistency of the man who takes " foolish " risks as true courage. 
What we really mean is that the brave man faces a great risk, being 
alive to its magnitude, but faces it because he rightly judges that 
it is good to do so. The " wisdom " he shows is right judgment of 
good and evil, and this is what Socrates means to suggest. 

At this point Nicias comes into the discussion. He has " often " 
heard Socrates say that a man is " good " at the things he " knows " 
(aTrcp cro^o's, 194^) and ' ' bad ' ' at the things he does not know (a d/m^s) . 
If this is true, as Nicias believes it to be, courage, since it is always 
a good quality or activity, will be a o-o^ta or &rt<m?/Ai?, a knowledge 
of some kind. It is clearly not the same thing as any form of 
specialist technical knowledge, for the reasons we have already 
considered. But it may well be that it is " the knowledge of what 
is formidable and what is not " (17 T&V Scu/wi/ K<U tfappaAcW cirMroj/My, 
1940) ; i.e. the truly brave man may be the man who knows, in all the 
situations of life, what is and what is not a proper object of fear. 
This suggestion is plainly a step in the right direction, as it in- 


corporates the important distinction between specialist knowledge 
and the kind of knowledge which might conceivably be the same 
thing as virtue, the distinction which would be made, in the fashion- 
able terminology of our own day, between knowledge of facts and 
knowledge of values. Laches, however, who is in a bad temper from 
his own recent rebuff, treats the theory as a mere piece of mystifica- 
tion, and can hardly be brought to express his objections to it in 
decently civil language. A physician or a farmer knows the dangers 
to which his patients or his cattle are exposed, but such knowledge 
does not constitute courage (1956). The objection shows that 
Laches has missed the whole point of the definition, as Nicias goes 
on to observe. The physician may know that a patient will die or 
will recover ; he does not know whether death or recovery is the 
really " formidable " thing for the patient. It may be that it is 
recovery which would in some cases be the " dreadful " thing, but 
medical science cannot tell us which these cases are ; (e.g. a man might 
use his restored health in a way which would bring him to public 
disgrace worse than death, and, of course, his medical man cannot 
learn from the study of medicine whether this will happen or not 1 ) . 
Even the " seer " can only predict that a man will or will not die, 
or lose his money, that a battle will be won or lost ; his art cannot 
tell him which event will be better for the man or the State (1950- 
196^). This is, of course, exactly the reply which might be made 
to Laches' criticism from the Socratic standpoint. But it still leaves 
something to be said which Socrates is anxious to say. In the 
first place, if courage is knowledge of some kind, we must deny that 
any mere animal can be brave. In fact, the truly brave will be a 
small minority even among men. Must we say, then, that there is 
no difference in courage between a lion and a deer, a bull and a 
monkey ? Laches thinks the suggestion a sufficient refutation of 
what he regards as the sophisticated nonsense of Nicias, but, as 
Nicias observes, its edge is turned if we distinguish between natural 
high temper and fearlessness (TO a<o/fov) and genuine courage 
(TO avSptlov, i<)6d-i()jc). So far Nicias is simply insisting on what we 
shall see from the Phaedo and Republic to be the Socratic view.* 
Native fearlessness is a valuable endowment, but it is only in a 
human being that it can serve as a basis for the development of the 
loyalty to principle we call courage, and it is only in " philosophers " 
that this transformation of mere " pluck " into true valiancy is 
complete. But there is a further difficulty which Nicias has left 
out of account. By a " formidable thing " or " thing to be feared " 
we mean a future or impending evil. Now there is no science of 
future good and evil distinct from the science of good and evil 

1 So in Dickens's Great Expectations it is " better for " the returned convict 
that he dies in the prison hospital, since, if he .had recovered, he would have 
been sent to the gallows for returning from transportation. The hero is glad 
to hear on each inquiry that the patient is " worse/' 

2 The distinction is more obvious to a Greek than to ourselves, since the 
vox propria for " brave " is dpfyeios, " manly," and to call a brute " manly" 
is felt to be at least a straining of language. 


simpliciter, just as there is no special science of "future health and 
disease " or of "future victory and defeat." There is simply the 
science of medicine or of strategy, and these sciences apply 
indifferently to past, present, and future. So our definition, if we 
are to retain it, must be amended ; we must say that courage is 
" knowledge of good and evil/ 1 without any further qualification 
(198^-1990). But as now amended our formula covers not merely a 
part but the whole of goodness. If it is a definition at all, it is the 
definition of " goodness," not of one of several different varieties or 
departments of "goodness" (1990)- Yet it is commonly held 
that courage is not the whole of " goodness " ; a good man needs 
to display other virtues, such as " justice " and sophrosyne. It 
appears then that, after all, we have not answered the question what 
courage is. So far from being competent to choose masters for the 
education of the boys, we all need to go to school ourselves, if only 
we could find a teacher (201 a). 

Thus the dialogue has led us to the same result as the Charmides. 
If we try to explain what any one great typical moral virtue is, we 
find ourselves driven on to define it as " the knowledge of what is 
good." Every virtue thus seems on examination to cover the whole 
field of the conduct of life, and none can be in principle distinguished 
from any other. Yet it is commonly thought, and we shall see in 
dealing with the Republic that there are facts of experience which 
strongly support the view, that the different virtues are so really 
distinct that a man may be eminent for one and yet no less eminent 
for the lack of another, (as the typical soldier is commonly thought 
to be at once braver and more licentious than the ordinary peaceable 
civilian). We are forced by our intellect to accept the Socratic 
" paradox " of the unity of virtue, but we have to explain how the 
" paradox " is to be reconciled with the facts upon which popular 
moral psychology is based. How the reconciliation is effected we 
shall be able to say when we have studied the Protagoras, Phaedo, 
and Republic. The all-important point, on which too many inter- 
preters went wrong in the nineteenth century, is to understand that, 
to the end of his life, Plato never wavered in his adherence to the 
" paradox " itself. 

Lysis. The dialogue is linked with the Charmides by its setting, 
which presents another charming picture of the manner of Socrates 
with promising boys ; some of the problems of moral psychology it 
suggests point forward to one of the supreme achievements of 
Plato's literary prime, the Symposium. It is specially interesting 
as the unnamed source from which Aristotle derives most of the 
questions discussed in a more systematic way in the lectures which 
make up the eighth and ninth books of the Nicomachean Ethics. 
(The extensive use of the Lysis in these books of itself disposes of the 
misguided attack made on its authenticity by some nineteenth- 
century scholars.) 

The subject of the discussion is Friendship, a topic which plays 
a much more prominent part in ancient than in modern ethical 


literature, for easily assignable reasons. It is quite untrue to say 
that the Greeks " had no family life," but it is true that owing to 
the neglect of the education of their women, the family tended to 
be more a close " business partnership " than a centre of intellectual 
interests and spiritual emotions. Again, though conjugal affection 
could be a real thing in the Hellenic world, for the same reasons, 
romantic love between the sexes had little scope for the moralizing 
and spiritualizing effects we are accustomed to ascribe to it. 
" Passion " was relatively more prominent, " affection " much more 
secondary, in the sexual life of Periclean Athens than in that of any 
community which has been stamped by Christian traditions. In 
the Greek literature of the great period, Eros is a god to be dreaded 
for the havoc he makes of human life, not to be courted for the 
blessings he bestows ; a tiger, not a kitten to sport with. 1 Love, as 
known to the classical writers, is a passion for taking, not for giving. 
Hence in life, as seen from the Hellenic point of view, there are just 
two outlets for the spirit of eager unselfish devotion. It can show 
itself in a high impersonal form, as absolute devotion to the ' city " 
which is the common mother of all the citizens. For the man who, 
like most of us, needs a personal object of flesh and blood for pas- 
sionate affection and self-sacrifice, there is the lifelong friend of 
his own sex, whose good is to him as his own. This is why, in 
Aristotle's Ethics, an elaborate study of friendship immediately pre- 
cedes the culminating picture of the " speculative life/' in which 
man puts off the last vestiges of his human individuality to lose 
himself in the contemplation of God. We may suspect that those 
who condemn the tone of Greek ethics as " self-centred "have usually 
" skipped " these books in their reading of the Ethics, and forgotten 
that they are only the remains of what was once a vast literature. 2 
Plato's interest in the Lysis is partly a psychological one. He 
is fascinated by the mystery of the attraction which can draw two 
human beings so close, that each is to the other as dear or dearer 
than himself, as modern philosophers have been by the mystery 
of the attraction of a particular woman for a particular man. What 
does A see in B rather than in C, to account for this attraction ? 
But he has also a more specifically ethical purpose, as will appear 
from an analysis of his argument. As usual, we shall find the 
fundamental conceptions of the Socratic morality, the doctrine 

1 Cf. Bevan, Hellenism and Christianity, 93-94. 

2 There are linguistic difficulties about any precise reproduction of the 
argument of the Lysis in English. <t>i\iv can only be rendered " to love," 
i.e. with the love of affection (not that of sexual desire). But for (j>t\os, used 
as a substantive, we have to say " friend," while the adjective has to be 
rendered in various ways. If we said regularly either " friendly " or " dear," 
we should obscure the reasoning, since " friendly " means definitely " a person 
feeling affection," and " dear " a " person towards whom affection is felt." 
Either rendering would make nonsense of the question, whether our <f>l\ot are 
those whom we " love " or those who " love us." Further, when the adjective 
is used about things, like wine and the like, we cannot render it by either. 
We have to say that a man " likes " wine or horses. This must be my apology 
for the shifts to which I have been driven. 


of the " tendance " of the soul and the dependence of happiness 
upon knowledge of good, emerging from the paradoxes in which the 
discussion appears to entangle itself. 

The introduction of the dialogue closely resembles that of the 
Charmides. Socrates is taking a walk outside the city wall from 
the suburb of the Academy on the N.W. to the Lyceum on the 
E., when he is accosted by some of his young friends and drawn 
into a palaestra to make the acquaintance of Lysis, a beautiful and 
modest boy passionately admired by Hippothales, one of the elder 
lads. Hippothales, in fact, as the others complain, makes a nuisance 
of himself by inflicting on them endless bad poems, in which he 
belauds the antiquity, wealth, and splendid renown of the family of 
Lysis. Socrates good-naturedly banters Hippothales on the mal- 
adroitness of attempting to make a "conquest " by flatteries which 
would be more likely to spoil the recipient, by making him arrogant, 
conceited, and domineering, and is then invited to enter the palaestra 
and give a practical example of the kind of conversation really 
appropriate to a " lover " (Lysis, 2030-2070). 

(The tone which Socrates adopts in his conversation with Lysis 
discloses quietly but unmistakably the difference between his own 
conception of a romantic attachment and that of his fashionable 
young companions. The tacit presupposition is that the " true 
lover's " desire is for the real felicity of the beloved ; his passion is 
thus an entirely pure and disinterested thing, a form of <iAia, " affec- 
tion/ 1 not of selfish lust ; and this, no doubt, is why Socrates can open 
the argument by examples drawn from wise parental affection. 1 ) 

Lysis has parents who love him dearly. Since they love him so 
well they are, of course, anxious for his "happiness." Now a man 
cannot be happy if he is not his own master and cannot " do what 
he desires/ 1 " have his own way/' Yet the very parents who are 
so devoted to the boy's happiness will hardly let him have his own 
way about anything. He is not allowed to drive his father's 
horses or mules, though a hired coachman or a groom who is a slave 
is allowed to do as he thinks good with them. He is even made to 
go to school under the conduct of a paedagogus and, though the 
man is a slave, has to do what he tells him. When he comes back 
from school, he may not do as he pleases with his mother's wools and 
implements for spinning and weaving ; he would even be whipped 
if he meddled with them. This does not look like being happy or 
being one's own master (207^-209^). 

Lysis gives the boyish explanation that he is not yet old enough 
to meddle with such matters. But the real reason cannot be one of 
age. There are things in which he is allowed to have his own way. 
When his parents want him to read aloud, to write or to sing, he is 
allowed to have his own way about the order in which he reads or 

1 The brutal selfishness of the fashionable <?/xxo-rv)j is the theme of Socrates 
homily in the Phaedrus, on the text " that one's favours should not be granted 
to a ' lover.' " Cf. the proverb quoted at the end of the homily, that this sort 
of " love " is the " love of the wolf for the lamb " (Phaedrus, 238^-241^). 


writes words and about tuning the strings of his instrument, because 
these are things which he knows how to do. Any man, or any body 
of men, will be ready to let us manage any kind of business at our 
own discretion, if only it is believed that we know how to do it 
better than anyone else. When you know how to handle an 
affair, every one will trust you to handle it ; no one will interfere 
with your action if he can help it ; the affair will really be your 
affair and you will be free in dealing with it. But our best friends 
will be the first persons to check us from having our own way in 
matters we do not understand ; they will not be our affair, and we 
shall be " under the control of others," " not our own masters " in 
handling them (2oga-2iob). The reason is that we are " unprofit- 
able/' " useless " (dvw^cActs), in matters we do not understand. 
But we cannot expect anyone to " love " us for our " uselessness." 
If we are " wise/ 1 everybody will be our friend, because we shall 
be " good and useful " ; if we are not, even our parents and relatives 
will not be our friends. Thus the sample conversation is made to 
lead up to the point that to be happy and to be free is the same 
thing as to have true knowledge. Socrates adds, with a sportive 
play on words, that it is absurd, /xc'ya <poi/tv, " to have a high mind/' 
to be conceited, about matters we do not know, and where, there- 
fore, we haven't a " mind " of our own at all (ei/ ots ns /XT/TTO) <poi/-i). 
This is, of course, directed against the vanity of the pride of family 
which we were told Hippothales encouraged in Lysis (ziob-d). 

Some by-play follows here, and when the argument is resumed 
it is with a different interlocutor. This is a device for calling our 
attention to the fact that the main issues of the dialogue have not 
yet been raised ; they are to be looked for, not in the example of the 
right way of conversing with an e/xo/Acvos, but in the apparently more 
desultory talk which is to follow. Socrates remarks that though he 
has always thought a good friend the most precious possession a 
man can have, he himself does not so much as understand how a 
friend is acquired. Young people who have had the good fortune 
to form a passionate friendship in their earliest days could, no doubt, 
enlighten him out of their experience. In this way we make the 
transition to the main problem of the dialogue, the question: 
What is the foundation of the personal attraction of one man for 
another ? 

" If one man loves another, which is the friend of the other the 
lover of the loved, or the loved of the lover, or does this make no 
difference ? " I.e., where there is a one-sided affection of A for B, 
does this entitle us to say that A and B are " friends " ? If not, 
does it entitle us to call one of them a " friend," and, if so, which is 
the friend ? Are my friends the persons who love me or the persons 
whom I love ? The difficulty lies in the existence of unrequited 
affection. A may be strongly attracted to B, while B is indifferent to 
A, or even repelled by him. Can we talk of friendship in cases of 
this kind ? Or should we say that there is not friendship unless 
the attraction is reciprocal ? It seems most reasonable to hold that 


the relation of friendship only exists when there is this reciprocal 
affection. In that case nothing is <i'Aov to you unless it " loves 
you back." To a Greek this creates a linguistic difficulty. When 
he wishes to say that a man is " fond of " anything wine, for 
example, or wisdom he has to form a compound adjective with 
<t>i\o for its first component, <t'Xoivos, <iAdo-o<os, or the like, much 
as when a German wishes to say that he is fond of animals he has 
to call himself a Tierfreund. Language thus seems to be against 
the view just suggested, but there are undeniable facts on its side ; 
very young children may feel no love for their parents, and may 
feel actual " hate " when they get a whipping, but the parent, even 
when he punishes the child, is its " best friend." This suggests 
that it is being loved that makes a friend. If you love me, I am 
your friend, whether I love you or not (2125-2130). 

But a difficulty arises when we remember that, by parity of 
reasoning, it should follow that it is being hated which makes a man 
an enemy : (if you hate me, I am your enemy, though my heart 
may be full of nothing but goodwill to you, or though I may not 
know of your existence). This leads to the paradox that when A 
feels love to B, but B hates A, A is being hated by a friend and B 
loved by an enemy, and thus the same couple may be said to be at 
once friends and enemies, a contradiction in terms (213^). 

If we revise our view and say that it is not being loved but loving 
that makes a friend, so that he who loves me is my friend, whatever 
my attitude to him may be, the same paradox equally follows, 
since I may love a person who cannot abide me. Since we began 
by setting aside the view that reciprocal affection is necessary 
for friendship, we seem thus to have exhausted all the possibilities, 
and to have shown that there is no such relation as friendship 


The absurdity of this shows that we must have made a false 
start. We must go over the ground again, and we may take a hint 
from the poets, who talk of friendships as " made in heaven/ 
God, they say, " draws like to its like." The scientific men who 
write cosmologies also make use of this principle of " like to like ' 
to account for the distribution of bodies in the universe. Perhaps 
this may be the secret of friendship ; the drawing of A to B may 
be one case of a great universal principle which underlies the struc- 
ture of the universe. Yet, on closer examination, we see that 
unfortunately, so far as the relations of men are concerned, the 
principle of " like to like " cannot be, at best, more than half the 
truth. Bad men are not made friends by being " drawn together." 
The more closely they are drawn together, the more each tries to 
exploit the other, and the more hostile they become. Perhaps the 
poets knew this, and really meant to say that a bad man, being 
without principle, is an unstable and chameleon-like being. He is 
a " shifty " fellow, who is perpetually " unlike " and at variance 
with himself, and a fortiori unlike and at variance with every one 
else. Hence the poets perhaps meant to hint that only men of 


principle, the good, are really " like " one another, and that friend- 
ship can only exist between the good (213^-2140). 

Yet, when we come to think of it, there is a worse difficulty to 
be faced. If one thing can act on another and influence it in any 
way, can the two be exactly alike ? Must there not be some un- 
likeness, if there is to be any interaction ? And if one party is 
wholly unaffected by the other, how can the one " care for " (ayairav) 
the other ? What " comfort " (cTrtKovpt'a) can the one bring to the 
other ? And how can you feel friendship for that which you do not 
care for ? If good men are friends, the reason must be in their good- 
ness, not in their " likeness " (i.e. they must be good in different 
ways, so that their respective goodnesses supplement each other, 
2140-2150) . And this, again, seems impossible. For the good man is 
' sufficient for himself " in proportion as he is good. He therefore 
feels no need of anything but himself. But he who feels no need 
does not " care for " anything, and he who does not care for a thing 
can have no affection for it. By this account there can be no friend- 
ships bet ween the good ; being " self-sufficient/' they will not miss 
one another in absence or have any occasion for one another's offices 
when they are together. On what ground, then, should they " set 
a value " on one another (2150-6) - 1 

Again we have gone off on a false track. Socrates once heard 
some one say that likeness is the source of the keenest rivalry and 
opposition, but extreme unlikeness the source of friendship. There 
is poetic authority for this in the Hesiodic saying about " two of 
a trade," and, in fact, we see that it is so. The rich and the poor, 
the feeble and the strong, the ailing man and the physician, are 
brought into friendly association precisely because they are unlike ; 
each needs the services of the other (e.g. the rich man needs in- 
dustrious and honest servants, the poor need an employer who 
has wherewithal to pay for their industry ; the sick man needs the 
physician's skill, the physician needs the fee for it). In fact, said 
this speaker, the attraction of unlikes is the key to cosmology. 2 
Everything in nature needs to be tempered by its opposite : the 

1 Obviously we are here raising a question of vast significance. In its 
extreme form it is the question whether there can be, as Christianity assumes, 
a love of God for the sinner, or indeed whether God can love anything but 
Himself. Socrates is raising a difficulty, but not solving it. It is true that 
the better a man is, the less does the removal of friends, by accident or estrange- 
ment or death, wreck his life. In that sense the good man is " sufficient to 

*Note the way in which it is assumed throughout the dialogue that 
Socrates is quite familiar with the theories of the cosmologists, and that his 
young friends will recognize allusions to them. This is strictly in keeping 
with the standing assumption of the Clouds as well as with the autobiographical 
section of the Phaedo. The conception of 0i\Ja in particular as " attraction 
of unlike for unlike " comes from Empedocles and the Sicilian medicine which 
goes back to him ; the thought that one opposite is the rpoQj, " food " or 
" fuel," of the other is that of Heraclitus. Heracliteanism was actually repre- 
sented at Athens in the time of the Archidamian war by Cratylus ; from the 
speech of Eryximachus in the Symposium we see that the Sicilian medical 
ideas were at home there also. 


hot by the cold, the dry by the moist, and so on, for everything is 
" fed by " its opposite the familiar doctrine of Heraclitus. Thus 
it would be tempting to say that friendship is a case of attraction 
between opposites. Yet if we say that, we shall at once fall an 
easy prey to those clever men, the dvriXoytKot, who love to make a 
man contradict himself. For they will say that hatred and love 
are a pair of extreme opposites, and so are " temperance " and 
profligacy, or good and evil. Our principle would thus require us 
to believe that a man will generally be most attracted to the very 
persons who detest him, that a remarkably temperate man will 
make his bosom friend of a notorious profligate, and the like. But 
manifestly these statements are not true. So once more we have 
come to no result. Neither simple " likeness " nor simple " unlike- 
ness " can be the secret of the attraction between friends (2150-2160). l 
We may attempt a more subtle explanation. Perhaps the truth 
is that in friendship one party is good, the other " neither good nor 
bad," the only alternative of which we have yet taken no account. 
(The suggestion is that the relation is regularly one between the 
possessor of some excellence and some one who aspires to the 
excellence but has not yet attained it. The friend to whom we are 
drawn is what we should like to become.) We may illustrate by a 
simple example from medicine. Health is a good thing, disease a 
bad thing ; the human body may be said to be neutral, because it 
is capable of both. Now no one cares about the doctor, so long as 
he is well. But when he is afraid of being ill, he welcomes the doctor. 
He does this not when he is at his last gasp, but before, when he 
apprehends illness, i.e. when he is neither in full health nor beyond 
help. We may say that this is a case in which " that which is 
neither good nor bad becomes friendly to that which is good because 
of the presence of what is evil " (2176). And here we must make a 
careful distinction. " Some things are such as to be themselves 
such as that which is present to them, others are not " (2170). Thus 
if the golden locks of a boy are daubed with white paint, " white- 
ness " is present to them, but they are not themselves white 
(since, of course, the paint can be washed off). But when the boy 
has become an old man, " whiteness " will be " present " to his 
hair in a different sense ; his hair will itself be white. (The only 
object of these remarks is to warn us against supposing that when 
Socrates speaks of the " presence " of what is evil to what is " neither 
good nor bad," he is using the term in the sense in which it is 
employed when we explain the possession of a predicate by a thing 
by saying that the corresponding form is " present " to the thing. 
In this sense mipouo-t'a, " presence " of the form, is an equivalent for 
ju,c'0ci5, the " participation " of a thing in the form, as we see from 
the free use of both expressions in the Phaedo? It is assumed that 

1 I.e. it is not true either that any and every " likeness," nor yet that every 
and any " unlikeness," can be the foundation of friendship. 

8 Cf. Phaedo, loprf, where Socrates says that we may call the relation of 
form to sensible thing irapowla or Kowuvta or " whatever you please " (efre STT-Q 


the technical language of the theory of forms is so familiar a thing 
that Socrates needs to warn the lads not to be misled by it ; an 
odd representation if the whole theory had been invented by Plato 
after Socrates' death.) 

The theory, then, works out thus. So long as a thing is not yet 
itself evil, the " presence " of evil makes it desire the corresponding 
good ; when the thing itself has become evil, it has lost both desire 
and affection for good. This explains why neither those who are 
already wise, like the gods, nor those who are simply ignorant are 
" lovers of wisdom " (^tAdo-o^oi). " Philosophers/' as we are also 
told by Diotima in the Symposium, are between the two extremes 
on the way to wisdom, but only on the way. They are aware of 
their ignorance and anxious to get rid of it. The theory naturally 
appeals to the lads, since a boy's enthusiastic devotions are regularly 
attachments of this kind to some one older than himself whom he 
admires and wants to grow like (2i6c-2i8b). 

Still, on reflection Socrates finds a fatal flaw in this attractive 
solution of his problem. If we revert to our illustration, we observe 
that the patient is attached to his physician " because of something " 
and " for the sake of something/' He values the doctor because he 
is afraid of illness and for the sake of health, and of these disease is 
bad and " hateful " to him, health is dear or welcome (4>i'Aoi/) and 
good. Thus, if we generalize the principle, we must state it more 
exactly than we did at first. We must say, " That which is neither 
good nor bad is friendly to that which is good because of that which is 
bad and hateful, and for the sake of that which is good and welcome/' 
Now, passing by all merely verbal points to which exception might 
be taken, this statement implies that whatever is dear, or welcome, 
or friendly (<i'Aov) to us, is welcome as a means to something else, 
just as the physician's skill is welcome as a means to keeping or 
recovering health. But health itself is surely also welcome (</>tAov). 
Are we to say that it too is only welcome as a means to something ? 
Even if we say this, sooner or later we are bound to come upon 
something which is dear to us simply on its own account, and is 
that for the sake of which all other " dear " things are dear. A 
father whose son has swallowed hemlock will be eager to put his 
hand on a jar of wine. But he only cares for the jar because it 
holds the wine, and he only cares about the wine because it will 
counteract the poison. It is his son, not a sample of Attic pottery 
or of a particular vintage, about whom he is really concerned. So 
long as a thing or person is only " dear " to us for the sake of 
something else, it is only a J 'aeon de parler to call it " dear." What is 
really " dear " to us is " just that upon which all our so-called 

affections terminate " (cVcii^o avro ck o irao-at avrat at A.yo/xo'cu <t>t\tai 

T\vrG>(riv, 22ob). (Thus the question about the secret sources 

5fy Kal flrwsf Trpoffycvo^vrj). Elsewhere in the dialogue the form is said to 
" occupy " (K<LTt\w, a military metaphor) the thing, the thing to " receive " 
(Mxc<rOai, again a military metaphor) or to " partake in " (furtxtty) the 


of affection has brought us face to face with the conception 
of the summum bonum, which is the source of all secondary and 
derivative goodness, 2186-2206.) 

We have thus eliminated from our last statement the clause 
" for the sake of that which is good and welcome. " Will the rest 
of the formula stand criticism ? Is it true that what we " care for " 
is "good" and that we care for it " because of " (to escape from) 
evil ? If the second of these statements is sound, it should follow 
that in a world where there were no evils, we should no longer care 
about anything good, any more than we should value medicine in a 
world where there was no disease. If this is so, then our attitude 
to the supreme object of all our affections is unique. We care 
about the secondary objects of affection " for the sake of something 
welcome to us " (<t'Aov), i.e. because they are means to this primary 
object ; but we must say of the primary object of all affection itself 
that we care for it " for the sake of the unwelcome " (fyOpov), if 
we should really value it no longer in a world where there were no 
evils. Perhaps the question, as we put it, is a foolish one, for who 
can tell what might or might not happen in such a world ? But 
our experience of the world we live in teaches us as much as this. 
To feel hungry is sometimes good for us, sometimes harmful. 
Suppose we could eliminate all the circumstances in which being 
hungry is harmful, hunger would still exist, and so long as hunger 
existed we should " care for " the food which satisfies it. (Even 
in a socialist Utopia where every one was sure of sufficient food, 
and every one too healthy and virtuous to be greedy, men would 
still have " wholesome appetite " and care about their dinners.) 
This is enough to dispose of the theory that we only care about good 
as an escape from evil (2206-2210). 

Thus our formula seems to have gone completely by the board, 
and the course of the argument has suggested a new one. It seems 
now that the cause of all attachment (<f>i\ia) is desire (eVi0u/u'a), 
and that we must say " what a man desires is dear to him and when 
he is desiring it." (Thus we arrive at a purely relative definition 
of TO <f>i\ov, probably intentionally modelled on the famous relativist 
doctrine of Protagoras that " what a man thinks true is true for 
him, and so long as he thinks it so/ 1 ) We may proceed to develop 
this thought a little farther. A creature which desires regularly 
desires that of which it is " deficient " (cvSofs). So we may say 
that " the deficient " (TO frSccs) is " attached " (<i'W) to that 
of which it is " deficient." And deficiency means being " deprived " 
of something. (The " deficient " creature is " defective " ; it is 
without something it must have in order to be fully itself.) 
" Passion " (<po>?), friendship, desire, then, are all felt for something 
which "belongs to one's self" (TO OIKCIOV). Friends or lovers, 
thus, if they really are what they profess to be, are oiKeiot to one 
another ; they " belong to " one another ; each is, as we might say, 
a " part of the other " in " soul, or temper or body " (*aTa TO TT}$ 
rj cTSos). A thing for which we feel affection 


is then something <vo-ct oi/ceiW to ourselves, " our very own/' It 
follows that since each party to the affection is thus " the very 
own " of the other party, affection must be reciprocal, and Socrates 
is careful to apply this lesson by adding that " a genuine lover " 
must be one who has his love reciprocated. (This is plainly in- 
tended as a comment on the current perversions of " romantic " 
passion. Reciprocated affection was the last thing the pervert 
could expect from his 7rcu6W, a point of which we shall hear more 
in the Phaedrus. The fashionable epacmfc, it is meant, is not 
worthy of the name of a lover at all (221^-2226).) 

Formally the dialogue has ended in a circle, or seems to have 
done so. If TO ot/ctov, " what belongs to one's self/' is also TO ofiotov, 
" what is like " one's self, we have contradicted our earlier con- 
clusion that friendship is not based on " likeness/' If we try to 
escape from the contradiction by distinguishing between TO ot/cetov 
and TO o/xotov, it is attractive to say that all good things are oiVeta 
to one another (in virtue of their common goodness), all bad things 
otKcta in virtue of their badness, and all " neutral " things again 
OIKCUI. But this would contradict our decision that friendship is 
impossible between the bad. Or if we identify TO OIKCIOV, what is 
one's own, with TO ayaOov, one's good, we should have to say that 
friendship is only possible between two men who are both good, 
and this again would contradict another of our results (222b-e). 

In ending in this apparently hopeless result, the Lysis resembles 
a much more famous dialogue, the Parmenides. In neither case 
need we suppose that Plato's real intention is to leave us merely 
befogged. The way in which the thought that what is most near 
and intimate to each of us (TO otVctor) is the good is kept back to 
the very end of the conversation suggests that this that man as 
such has such a " natural good," and that it is the one thing worth 
caring for in life is the thought he means the discussion to leave 
in our minds. If we go back to the various proposed explanations 
of the secret of friendship with this thought in our minds, it may 
occur to us that they do not, after all, formally contradict one 
another. The common bond between the parties to associations 
which are all correctly called " friendships " may be different in 
different cases. Or rather, the bond between the " friends " may 
in every case be association in the pursuit of some " good," but 
goods are of very different levels of value, and " friendships " may 
exhibit the same variety of levels. Thus it may be that the full 
and perfect type of friendship can only be based on common pursuit 
of the true supreme good, and in that case friendship in the fullest 
sense will only be possible between " the good." Yet there may 
be associations between men founded on the common pursuit of 
some good inferior to the highest (e.g. the common pursuit of the 
" business advantage " of both parties, or the common pursuit of 
amusement or recreation). These would be " friendships " but of 
a lower type, and it may quite well be the case, e.g., that a good man 
and a bad one. or even two bad men may be associated in this 


inferior sort of " friendship." Such, at least, are the lines on which 
Aristotle in the Ethics develops a theory of friendship in which all 
the conflicting points of view of our dialogue are taken up, and each 
is found to have its relative justification. 

See further : 

RITTER, C. Platon, i. 284-297 (Laches) , 343-359 (Charmides\ 

497-504 (Lysis). 
RAEDER, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 95-99 (Laches 

Charmides), 153-158 (Lysis). 
STOCK, ST. GEORGE. Friendship (Greek and Roman) in E.R.E. 

vol. vi. 



BOTH the dialogues to be considered in this chapter have 
something of the character of "occasional works." Both 
are strongly marked by a broad farcical humour, which is 
apparently rather Socratic than Platonic ; we meet it again, e.g., 
in the comic fury of the satire in some parts of the Republic, but it 
is quite unlike the grave and gentle malice of such works as the 
Parmenides and Sophistes. The mirth, especially in the Euthydemus, 
has something of the rollicking extravagance of Aristophanes, and, 
according to the Symposium, there really was a side to Socrates 
which made him congenial company for the great comic poet. 
(Both men could relish wild fun, and both could enjoy a laugh at 
themselves.) In neither of our two dialogues is the professed main 
purpose directly ethical, though the Socratic convictions about the 
conduct of life incidentally receive an impressive exposition in 
the Euthydemus. It seems impossible to say anything more precise 
about the date of composition of either than that stylistic con- 
siderations show that both must be earlier than the great dramatic 
dialogues, Protagoras, Symposium, Phaedo, Republic. Since the 
Cratylus is a directly enacted drama with only three personages, 
while the Euthydemus is a reported dialogue with numerous per- 
sonages and a vigorously delineated " background," this second is 
presumably the more mature work of the two. 

Cratylus. The personages of the dialogue other than Socrates 
are two, Hermogenes and Cratylus. Hennogenes is well known 
to us as a member of Socrates 1 entourage. Both he and Cratylus 
figured in the Telauges of Aeschines, 1 where Socrates was apparently 
made to criticize the squalor affected by the extreme Orphic and 
Pythagorist spirituali. We learn from Plato (Phaedo 596) that 
Hennogenes was present at the death of Socrates. Xenophon 
mentions him several times and professes to owe some of his in- 
formation to him. He was a base-born brother of the famous, 
or notorious, " millionaire " Callias, son of Hipponicus, the muni- 
ficent patron of "sophists" (Crat. 391^), but himself poor, and 
apparently on no very good terms with his brother. As Callias 
was connected by marriage with Pericles, the appearance of him 
and his brother among the associates of Socrates is one of the many 

1 See E.R.E., art. SOCRATES, and H. Dittmar's Aeschines von Sphettus 
213-244. He and Callias are prominent figures in Xenophon's Symposium- 


indications that the philosopher stood in early life in close relations 
with the Periclean circle. Of Cratylus we apparently know only 
what Aristotle has told us in his Metaphysics, 1 that as we could 
have inferred from our dialogue itself he believed in the Heraclitean 
doctrine of universal " flux/' and that he carried his conviction of 
the impermanence of everything to the length of refusing to name 
things, preferring to point at them with his fingers. (The use of a 
significant name would suggest that the thing named really had 
some sort of relatively permanent character.) But one may 
reasonably suspect the story of being no more than an invention of 
some wag which Aristotle has perhaps taken too seriously. 2 Accord- 
ing to Aristotle, Plato had been "familiar" with him, and derived 
from him his rooted conviction that sensible things, because of their 
complete impermanence, cannot be the objects of scientific 

It is not clear whether Aristotle means to place this connexion 
of Plato with Cratylus before or after the death of Socrates, but 
presumably he means that it was before that event, since he says 
that it belonged to Plato's youth. The fact is likely enough, since 
Cratylus seems to have been one of Socrates' associates. (We must 
not suppose Aristotle to mean that when Plato associated with him 
he had not yet met Socrates ; the close relations of Socrates with 
Critias, Charmides, Adimantus, Glaucon, show that Plato must 
have been acquainted with him from early childhood.) We need 
not believe, and we can hardly believe, that the influence of Cratylus 
really counted for much in determining Plato's own thought ; he 
would not need any special master to inform him that sensible 
things are mutable. Most probably Aristotle, who only knew 
Plato in Plato's old age, has exaggerated the importance of an 
acquaintance which had really no great significance. In any case, 
the tone of the whole dialogue requires us to suppose that both 
Cratylus and Hermogenes are youngish men, decidedly younger 
than Socrates. 8 The " dramatic date " of the conversation is 
hardly indicated with certainty. If we may suppose, what seems 
to me most likely, that the " curfew regulations " in Aegina, alluded 
to at 433a, were connected with the Athenian military occupation 
of the island in 431, this would suggest a date not too long after 
the beginning of the Archidamian war, when Socrates would be in 
the early forties, and the other two perhaps twenty years younger. 

1 Aristotle, Met. 9870 32, loioa 12. 

2 Since Cratylus appears in our dialogue as holding that many of the names 
by which we actually call things are not their " real names," the point of the 
jest may have been less recondite. It may lie in his uncertainty what the 
" real name " of a given thing is. A good deal of fun might obviously be 
got out of this, e.g., in a comedy. 

This was certainly true of Hermogenes, since his elder brother Callias 
was still alive and active in public affairs at a date when Socrates, if he had 
still been living, would have been a centenarian. The active career of Callias 
hardly begins until the end of the fifth century. The youth of Cratylus is 
expressly remarked on by Socrates at the end of the dialogue (440^, ri -ydp 


This is further borne out by the reference (386^) to Euthydemus 
as a person whose views are of interest. We shall see below that 
the Euthydemus requires to be dated at latest not after 421 or 420. l 

The ostensible subject of discussion is the origin of language. 
Are names significant by "nature" (<vcm), in virtue of some 
intrinsic appropriateness of the verbal sign to the thing signified, 
or only significant " by convention " (VO/AW), i.e. arbitrary imposi- 
tion ? Cratylus takes the first view ; there is a natural " Tightness " 
of names which is one and the same for every one, Greek or barbarian 
(3836). If you call a thing by any other name than its own in- 
trinsically " right " name, you are not naming it at all, even though 
you are using for it the word which every one else uses. Hermogenes 
is on the side of " convention " or arbitrary imposition ; he holds 
that whatever we are accustomed to call anything is, for that 
reason, the name of the thing. The dispute is referred to Socrates, 
who is careful to explain that he cannot decide the question with 
expert knowledge, as he has never attended the expensive fifty- 
drachma lecture of Prodicus on the right use of language ; he can 
only contribute the suggestions of his native mother- wit (384&). a 

The issue under consideration is thus only one aspect of the 
famous " sophistic " antithesis between " nature " and " social 
usage " which we know to have been the great controversial issue 
of the Periclean age. The fancy that if we can only discover the 
original names of things, our discovery will throw a flood of light on 
the realities named, seems to recur periodically in the history of 
human thought. There are traces of it in Heraclitus and Herodotus ; 
in the age of Pericles it was reinforced by the vogue of allegorical 
interpretations of Homer, which depended largely on fanciful 
etymologies. Much of the dialogue is taken up by a long series of 
such etymologies poured forth by Socrates under what he himself 
declares to be " possession " by some strange personality. It is 

1 Reference is made several times in the Cratylus to a certain Euthyphro 
who exhibited the phenomena of "possession" (tvQov<ria<Tfji6s) . This may be 
the same person who gives his name to the dialogue Euthyphro, and was 
attempting to prosecute his own father for murder in the spring of the year 399. 
There is no difficulty about the chronology if we suppose that at that date 
Euthyphro, whose manner is that of an elderly rather than a very young 
man, was a year or two over fifty, and his father seventy-five or more. But 
the identification, though accepted by eminent scholars, seems precarious. 
There is nothing about the religious fanatic Euthyphro to suggest that he was 
subject to " possession." It is true that Socrates playfully calls him a p&vrit 
(Euthyph. 3^), but tiavrtK-fi had many forms. 

2 It is not suggested that it was poverty which prevented Socrates from 
attending the lecture. It seems clear that Socrates was not really poor until 
his middle age. As Burnet has said, the way in which the comic poets dwelt 
on his poverty when they attacked him in 423, suggests that his losses were then 
fairly recent. In the Protagoras, which takes us back before the Archidamian 
war, he appears to have a house of his own with a courtyard, and at least one 
servant (3106, 31 ia) t and speaks of himself in a w*ay which implies that he could 
at need have helped to pay Protagoras on behalf of his young friend (31 id, 
y<6 TC KO.I <rb Apytpiov tKeivy iwrBbv trotpoi Mpeffa reXeir Ivtp ffov). Hence the 
absence of any reference to poverty is perhaps an indication of " dramatic 


plain that we are not to find the serious meaning of the dialogue 
here, especially as, after delighting Cratylus by a pretended demon- 
stration that language supports the Heraclitean philosophy, since 
the names of all things good contain references to movement, and 
the names of all bad things to arrest of movement, he turns round 
and produces equally ingenious and far-fetched etymological 
grounds for supposing that the original " giver of names " must 
have held the Eleatic doctrine that motion is an illusion, since all 
the names of good things appear to denote rest or stoppage of 
motion. Obviously, we are to take all this as good-humoured 
satire on attempts to reach a metaphysic by way of " philology " ; 
as far as etymologies go, a little ingenuity will enable us to get 
diametrically opposite results out of the same data. 

The real purpose of the dialogue, so far as it has any purpose 
beyond the preservation of a picture of Socrates in one of his more 
whimsical moods, is to consider not the origin of language, but its 
use and functions. If we consider the purposes which spoken 
language subserves, we shall see that if it is to be adequate for those 
purposes, it must conform to certain structural principles. Hence 
the formula of the partisans of " convention " that the " right 
name " of anything is just whatever we agree to call it, makes 
language a much more arbitrary thing than it really is. A " right 
name " will be a name which adequately fulfils all the uses for 
which a name is required, and thus one man's or one city's voca- 
bulary may name things more rightly, because more adequately, 
than that of another. But so long as the purpose for which names 
are required is adequately discharged by any vocabulary, things 
will be rightly " named " in the vocabulary. The names for 
things will not have the same syllables and letters in Greek and in 
a " barbarian " language, but if the purposes for which speech is 
required are equally well achieved in both languages, both names 
will be equally " true " names for things. So the partisans of 
Averts, who hold, like Cratylus, that there is one particular com- 
bination of sounds which is the one and only " right name " of a 
given thing, are also only partly right. They are right in thinking 
that the right assignment of names is not arbitrary, but depends on 
principles of some kind, and that a nomenclature which " every one 
agrees in using " may, for all that, be a bad one ; they are wrong in 
thinking that if a given succession of sounds is a " right name " for 
a certain thing, no other such combination can be its " right name." 
The Cratylus is thus not so much concerned with the " origin " of 
language, as with the principles of philosophical and scientific 
nomenclature, though it contains many incidental sound observa- 
tions about those analogies between the different movements of 
articulation and natural processes which seem to underlie the 
" onomatopoeic " element'in language, as well as about the various 
influences which lead to linguistic change. 

Hermogenes, at the outset, adopts an extreme form of the view 
that language is wholly arbitrary. If I like to call a thing by a 


certain name that is its name for me, even in the case of my inverting 
the usage of every one else. Thus, if I call " horse " what every 
one else calls ''man/' "horse" really is my private name, the 
name in my private language (tSi'a, 3850) for that being, as truly as 
"man" is its name "in the language of the public" (8r//xoo-ta) . 
Now this assertion raises a very large question. A name is a part, 
an ultimate part, of a \oyos or statement. Statements may be true 
or they may be false ; they are true if they speak of realities (ovra) 
as they really are, false if they speak of them otherwise. But if a 
whole " discourse " or " statement " may be either true or false, 
we must say the same about its parts. Every part of a true state- 
ment must be true, and thus, since there are true and false Xoyot, 
there must be true and false names (385^). This looks like a fallacy, 
but we shall see that it is not really one if we note carefully the use 
Socrates makes of the distinction. His point is the sound one, 
that language is a social activity ; it is primarily an instrument of 
communication. A "name" given by me privately to something 
which everybody else calls differently does not discharge this 
function ; it misleads, is a bad instrument for its purpose. This 
is what Socrates means by calling it a " false " name. It is a 
spurious substitute for the genuine article which would do the work 

This disposes of the suggestion of a purely " private " language 
peculiar to the individual, but still it may be reasonably main- 
tained that at any rate though the names " barbarians " give to 
things are not the same as those used by Greeks, they are just as 
much the " true names " of things as the Greek words (385^). 
I.e. we may urge that the plurality of languages shows that language 
is an arbitrary thing, though it depends on the arbitrium of a group, 
not of a single man. But if names are arbitrary, is the reality 
(oucn'a) of the things named equally arbitrary ? If a thing's name 
is just whatever some one likes to call it, is the thing itself just 
whatever some one thinks it to be ? Protagoras actually held that 
everything really is for any one just what he thinks it to be, so long 
as he thinks it to be so, and Hermogenes reluctantly admits that he 
sometimes feels driven to accept the view, strange as it is. How- 
ever, we may perhaps dismiss it with the remark that it leaves no 
room for distinguishing wiser and less wise men, since it says that 
every one's beliefs are true for him and no one else, and just as 
long as he holds them. But it seems the most patent of facts that 
some men are good, and therefore wise, and some wicked and there- 
fore unwise. Yet we can hardly go to the opposite extreme with 
Euthydemus, who says that all statements whatever are true, always 
and " for every one." This would equally lead to the view that 
there is no distinction between the virtuous and the vicious, and 
consequently none between wisdom and the lack of it * (386^). 

1 Since, if Euthydemus is right, you can always truly predicate both virtue 
and vice of any subject whatever. Formally, Protagoras says that a proposition 
is true only when it is being believed by some one ; Euthydemus, that what we 


Now if neither of these doctrines can be true, " objects " (ra 
Trpay/xara) clearly have some determinate real character of their 
own (overlay rtVa pifianov) which is independent of our " fancy " ; 
and if this is so " activities " (7rpafs) will also have a " nature " 
or " reality " ($v'crii>) of their own, since " activities " are one form 
of " object " (lv rt 1809 Tu)i/ oi/rujf, 3860). Hence, if we want to 
perform an act, we cannot do it in any way and with any instrument 
we please. We must do it in the way prescribed by the nature of 
the object we are acting on, and with the "naturally proper" 
instrument (<5 irtyvKt). For example, in cleaving wood, if we are 
to succeed, we must split the wood " with the grain " and we must 
use a naturally suitable implement. Speaking of things and naming 
them is an activity (xrpa&s), and what we have just said applies 
therefore to naming. If we want to name things we must name 
them not just as the fancy takes us, but " as the nature of the 
objects permits and with the instrument it permits." The instru- 
ment or tool for naming things is, of course, the name itself. We 
may define a name as " an instrument by which we inform one 
another about realities and discriminate between them " (3886-0, 

oi/o/xa apa SiSacrKoAiKov TI eamv opyavov Kat Sia/cpmKov rr)s oucrtas). 
In all the crafts (weaving, for example) one craftsman (e.g. the 
weaver) has to make a proper use of some implement which has 
been properly made by some other craftsman (e.g. the carpenter, 
who makes the wooden implements which the weaver uses). Now 
from our definition of a name we see at once who is the expert crafts- 
man who " uses " names as his tools ; he is the " teacher " or 
"instructor" (6 SiSao-KaAi/cds). But who is the other expert who 
makes the tools which the teacher uses ? According to the very 
theory from which we started, they are made by vd/xos, " social 
usage." Hence we may say that they are the manufacture of the 
" legislator," the institutor of social usage. And legislation is 
not work that anyone can do, " unskilled labour " ; it is " skilled 
labour," work for an expert, or professor of a TC'XVT/. Clearly then, 
it is not correct to say that anyone whatever can arbitrarily give 
names to things (386^-3890). (Thus the result so far is that, since 
the function of language is the accurate communication of know- 
ledge about things, the vocabulary of " social usage " will only be 
satisfactory when it supplies a nomenclature which corresponds to 
the real agreements and differences between the things named.) 

Well, what would the expert in establishing usages have before 
his mind's eye in assigning names ? We may see the answer by 
considering the way in which the carpenter works when he makes a 
KcpKts for the weaver. He " keeps his eyes on " the work the 
Kcpjct's is meant to do in weaving its function. If one of his 
articles breaks while he is making it, of course he makes a fresh one, 
and in making it he does not " fix his eye " on the spoilt and broken 

u's but on the form (e!8os) with an eye to which he had been 

all disbelieve is as true as what we all believe. Both positions make science 


making the one which broke (3896). It is this "model" /cc/m's, 
kept by the carpenter before his mind's eye in making all the 
different wooden Kcpja'&s, which best deserves the name of avro 
o com/ K6/3Kt9, " just the Kepi's, " the K/3/as and nothing else " (ib.). 

There are three points to be got hold of here, (i) The carpenter 
cannot give the tools he makes for the weaver just any shape he 
pleases ; the shape or form of the Ke/Ws is determined, independently 
of anyone's fancy, by the work it is meant to do. (2) Strictly 
speaking, when the carpenter is said in common parlance to make 
a K(pKi<s, what he does is to put the form, which is the " natural " 
or " real " KC^KIS, into the wood on which he is working. 1 (3) And 
though the shape of a KC/WS is something fixed, it will be repro- 
duced by the carpenter in different material, according as the 
implement is wanted for weaving different sorts of cloth (e.g., you 
would need the wood to be harder for work on some kinds of material 
than on others). We may transfer these results to the case of the 
" legislator " who makes names. The letters and syllables, like 
the wood of the carpenter, are the material into which he has to 
put " the real name " (eVeu/o o co-rtv ovofjia). Differences in the 
material will not matter, in this case any more than in the other, 
so long as the resulting instrument answers its purpose. This is 
why, though the sounds of a Greek word and those of the " bar- 
barian " equivalent may be very different, each is a true name if 
it discharges the function of a name adequately (3896-3900). (It 
should be noted that all through this passage the technical language 
of the doctrine of forms is used without explanation. Plato 
assumes that Hermogenes and Cratylus may be counted on to know 
all about it. To my own mind, it is just the frequency with which 
this assumption is made, apparently without any consciousness 
that it calls for any justification, which is the strongest reason for 
refusing to believe that the whole doctrine was " developed " by 
Plato or anyone else after the death of Socrates.) 

Who, then, decides whether a given piece of wood has really 
received the " form of Kepi's," as it should have done ? Not the 
expert who makes the implement (the carpenter), but the expert 
who will have to use it (the weaver). And this is a general rule. 
The man who makes an implement must " take his specifications " 
from the man who is to use it. Thus we arrive at a distinction 

1 According to the well-known statements of Aristotle (Met. 9916 6, io8oa 3, 
royoa 18, a/.), the Academy of his own day held that there are no " forms " of 
artificial things. No doubt the statement is true, but it has no bearing on the 
form of KtpKls in the Cratylus or that of K\IVTJ in Republic x, Aristotle is 
speaking of the theory as he knew it, i.e. after 367, and it is notorious that this 
version of the doctrine has to be learned from his writings, not from Plato's. 
The only character in the dialogues of Plato's later life who ever says anything 
about the doctrine is Timaeus, and he speaks pretty much as Socrates is made 
to do in the earlier dialogues. In the Cratylus there is no suggestion that the 
etfios is a sort of supra-sensible " thing." It is just a " type " to which the 
manufacturer's articles must conform, and its independence means simply 
that the structure of the icepick is determined by its function, independently 
of anyone's caprice. 


afterwards explicitly formulated in the Politicus and reproduced as 
fundamental in the opening paragraphs of the Nicomachean Ethics, 
the distinction between superior and subordinate " arts/' the rule 
being that it is the " art " which uses a product that is superior, 
the " art " which makes it that is subordinate. This will 
apply to the case of the " legislator " who makes names. There 
must be a superior expert, whose business it is to judge of the 
goodness of the names, namely, the expert who is to use them, and 
he can be no other than the expert in asking and answering questions, 
that is the " dialectician " or metaphysician. The " legislator " 
who is to bestow names rightly must therefore work under the 
superintendence and to the specifications of the " dialectician," 
the supreme man of science. (In other words, the test of the 
adequacy of language is not mere " custom," but its capacity to 
express the highest truth fully and accurately.) 

Cratylus, then, is right in thinking that language depends on 
" nature," and that names can only rightly be given by a man who 
" fixes his eye on the real (<vVei) name and can put its form into 
letters and syllables " (389^-390^). * At any rate, this is how the 
matter looks to Socrates, though, as he had said, he cannot go on 
to convince Hermogenes by explaining which names are the " right " 
ones. For that one must go to the professional sophists, such as 
Protagoras, or, since Hermogenes has no money to pay them, he 
might ask his brother Callias to teach him what he has learned from 
Protagoras on this very subject foqia-c). Perhaps we can hardly 
do this, since Hermogenes has already decided against the main 
principle of Protagoras' book on Truth. But something can be 
done, to make a beginning, with Homer. He sometimes gives two 
names for a thing, that used by " gods " and that used by " men," 
and in such cases we sometimes find that the name used by the 
" gods " is significant (e.g., we call a certain river Scamander, but 
the gods call it " the Yellow River," Eavtfos). Or again he tells us 
that Hector's son was called Scamandrius by the women, but 
Astyanax by his father and the men. Now, on the average, the 
men of a society are more intelligent than their women-folk, 2 and 
their name for the boy is presumably his " right " name. And, 

1 It is, of course, with intentional humour that Socrates forgets that 
Cratylus had meant something quite different when he said that names are 
11 by nature." Note the repeated insistence on the point that Greek has no 
necessary superiority over a " barbarian " language (like, e.g., Persian). The 
notion that " barbarians " are intrinsically inferior to Hellenes, so prominent 
in Isocrates and Aristotle, is foreign to the Platonic dialogues, though it is 
recognized as a fact that Hellenes show more aptitude than Egyptians and 
other peoples for science. The all-round inferiority of the non-Hellene is not 
a Socratic or Platonic doctrine. That the point should be insisted on in a 
discussion about language is all the more interesting since pdppapos seems 
originally to have meant one who " jabbers " like a swallow, as Clytaem- 
nestra says in Aeschylus. 

* This is given as a mere statement of fact, and in a place like the Athens 
of the fifth century it was true. It is not implied that it ought to be so, or 
need be so. Indeed, as we shall see, Socrates held that it need not be so. 


in fact, we see that it has a significance which makes it appropriate. 
The name means " Burgh- ward," and is therefore very suitable to 
the son of Hector who " warded " Troy so effectually (3910-3920). 

Once started on this trail, Socrates proceeds to propound a 
host of derivations of names proper names of heroes and gods, and 
common nouns with the general purpose of showing that in their 
original form, often widely different from that to which we are 
accustomed, they have a " connotation " which makes them 
specially appropriate. There is no need to follow this part of the 
conversation in any detail, all the more since Socrates professes to 
be surprised by his own readiness and suggests that he must have 
been infected by an abnormal " possession " from having just left 
the company of the "inspired" Euthyphro (396^). We could 
hardly be told more plainly that the extravagances which are to 
follow are meant as a caricature of the guesses of " etymologists " 
working in the dark without any scientific foundation. 1 But, like 
a wise man, Socrates mixes some sense with his nonsense. Thus it 
is a sound principle, whatever we may think of some of the applica- 
tions made of it, that proper names of men and gods are likely to 
have been originally significant, though their meaning has been 
lost through linguistic changes. It is sound sense again to say 
(398^) that we may often be put on the true track by considering 
archaic forms which are obsolete in current speech, or peculiar 
dialectical variants (4010). So again Socrates is quite right in 
calling attention to the presence of " barbarian " words in the 
current vocabulary (4090), though the use he makes of the fact as 
a convenient way out of a difficulty whenever he is at a loss is 
manifestly jocular (4210-^). The jocularity is even more patent 
when he pretends (4020) to make the sudden discovery, which he 
then rides to death, that the ancient names of the gods and a host 
of other words show that the creators of the Greek language were 
Heracliteans, or (4096) that the name Selene conveys the discovery, 
connected at Athens with the name of Anaxagoras, that the moon 
shines by reflected light. It is no surprise to us when, after a long 
interval of more serious discussion, we find him (4370 ff.) expressing 
his doubts whether after all etymology might not be made to bear 
equal witness to Parmenides and his doctrine of the absolute 
motionlessness of the real. 

We come back to seriousness at 4220: with the reflection that, 
after all, the process of derivation cannot go on for ever. We must, 
in the end, arrive at a stock of primitive names, the ABC (erroix*"*) 
of all the rest. How are we to account for the appropriation of 
each of these to its signification ? We may do so if we reflect that 
language is a form of gesture. If we were all deaf and dumb we 

1 Probably, if only we had adequate literary records of the Periclean age 
we might find that a good many of the etymologies are specimens of the 
serious speculations of the persons satirized. Few of them are much more 
extravagant than, e.g., the derivation of /tfyw from KJP hinted at in Euripides, 
Troad. 425. 


should try to communicate information by imitating with our own 
bodies the shapes and movements oi the things to which we wanted 
to call attention. Now we can imitate in the same way by vocal 
gestures. If a man could reproduce the " reality " of different 
things by the vocal gestures we call " letters " and " syllables/' he 
would be naming the various things (4230-4246) . The primitive 
names may be supposed to have been produced by this method of 
imitation. We may test this suggestion and judge of the " right- 
ness " of these primitive words by making a careful classification 
of the elementary components of our speech the vowels, consonants, 
and so forth and considering the movements by which they are 
produced. We shall ask whether there are not analogies between 
these various processes and processes in nature at large, and whether 
primitive names do not seem to be composed of sounds produced 
by movements analogous with those of the things they signify, 
allowance being made for a considerable amount of variation for 
the sake of euphony and greater ease of articulation. We might, 
to be sure, save ourselves trouble by simply saying that the primi- 
tive words were invented by gods or " barbarians " of long ago, 
but this would be shirking the chief problem which the scientific 
expert in the theory of language has to face (425^-4266). Socrates 
therefore ventures, with misgivings, to state some of his observa- 
tions on the subject. The pages in which he does so (4266-427^) 
have often been commended for their penetration, but the subject 
has more interest for the student of phonetics than for the philo- 
sopher, and we need not delay over the details. What is of real 
interest to others than specialists in phonetics is the discernment 
shown by the insistence on the general principle that speech is to be 
regarded as a species of mimetic gesture, and the clear way in 
which such vocal gesture is distinguished from direct reproduction 
of natural noises and the cries of animals (4230-^). 

Hitherto the conversation has been a dialogue between Socrates 
and Hermogenes ; Cratylus now replaces the latter as interlocutor. 
He is delighted with all that Socrates has said no doubt because 
Socrates has professed to find Heracliteanism embodied in the very 
structure of language and thinks it could hardly be bettered. But 
Socrates himself has misgivings, and would like to consult his second 
thoughts. (What the by-play here really hints is that we are 
now to come to a discussion to which Plato attaches greater im- 
portance than he does to the entertaining etymological speculations 
on which so much time has been spent.) 

We said that name-giving is a trade, and that the workman 
(8r}fj.iovpy6s) who makes names is the " legislator." Now in general 
there are better and worse workmen in any trade ; we should expect, 
then, that there are degrees of goodness and badness in the names 
made by different legislators (i.e. linguistic tradition, of which the 
vo/uo0rn?s is a personification, approximates more or less nearly, 
in the case of different idioms, to the ideal of a " philosophical " 
language). Cratylus denies this, on the ground that a word either 


is the right name of a certain thing, or is not that thing's name at 
all, but the name of something else. There cannot be any inter- 
mediate degree of " Tightness " in this case. If you call a thing by 
the name of something else, you are not speaking of the thing in 
question at all ; (e.g. to say " Hermogenes " when you meant Cratylus, 
is trying to say " what is not/' and that is impossible). You cannot 
say nothing. Whenever you speak you must be saying something. 
Not only must you mean (Xcyecv) something, but you must 
enunciate (<avai) something. Hence when a man uses any but the 
" right name " Cratylus holds that he merely makes a senseless 
noise, like a " sounding brass " (\f/o<J>civ cywy* a.v faty rov rotovro^, 

p,aTrjv currov eavrov Kii/ovvra, wcrTrcp av et TIS ^aXjciov Ktv^o-ctc K/oowag, 

43oa). In other words, you cannot make a statement which is 
significant and yet false. Every statement is either true or mean- 
ingless. The difficulty here suggested only seems fanciful to us, 
because the explanation of it given for the first time in Plato's own 
Sophistes has become part of our current thought. To say " what 
is not " does not mean to say what is simply meaningless, but only 
to say what means something different from the real facts of the 
case. Until this had been explained, there was a double difficulty 
for the Greek mind in understanding how it is possible to speak 
falsely. Partly the difficulty is due to the accident of language 
that the word eivcu is ambiguous ; it means " to be " or " to exist " ; 
in Greek, especially in the Ionic Greek, which was the original 
tongue of science, it also means " to be true," as when Herodotus 
calls his own version of the early life of Cyrus TO coV, " the true 
narrative," or Euripides in Aristophanes speaks of the story of 
Phaedra as an o>v Adyos, " an over-true tale." Behind the merely 
verbal ambiguity there is further a metaphysical one, the confusion 
between " what is not " in the absolute sense of " blank nothing/' 
and " what is not " in the merely relative sense of " what is other 
than " some given reality. So long as you confuse " what is not " 
in this relative sense with what is just nothing at all, you must 
hold it impossible to say significantly " what is not " (i.e. to make 
a false statement which has any meaning). This explains why, in 
the age of ^ Pericles ^and Socrates, it should have been a fashionable 
trick of dvriAoyiKoi or tpurrucoi, pretenders who made a show of 
intellectual brilliance by undertaking to confute and silence every 
one else, to argue that no statement, however absurd, if it means 
anything, can be false. The most violent paradoxes must be true, 
because they mean something, and therefore he who utters them is 
saying " what is." Plato regularly connects this theory of the 
impossibility of speaking falsely with the philosophy of Parmenides, 
and its unqualified antithesis between " what is " and mere non- 
entity. He means that the doctrine arises as soon as you convert 
what Parmenides had meant for a piece of physics into a principle of 
logic. Cratylus, to be sure, is a follower not of Parmenides, who 
regarded change of every kind as an illusion, but of Heraclitus, 
who thought change the fundamental reality. But he is led by a 


different route to the same result. Whether you start with the 
premise that " what is not," being just nothing at all, cannot be 
spoken of, or with the premise that to call a thing " out of its name " 
must be to speak of something else and not of the thing in question, 
in either case the conclusion has to be drawn that you cannot 
significantly say what is false, since that would be to speak of a 
given thing and yet not to speak of it " as it is." l 

Though this issue of the possibility of significant false statement 
has been raised, we need not go to the bottom of it for our present 
purposes. (In fact, Plato's own logical studies had presumably 
not yet led him to the complete solution.) It is enough to remember 
that we have already agreed that a name is a " representation " 
(/At/Ai/fia) of that which it names. It is like a portrait, except that 
the portrait is a visible, the name an audible, representation. Now 
we might take the portrait of a woman for a portrait of a man ; we 
should then be connecting the portrait with the wrong original, 
but still it would be a portrait of some original. We do the same 
thing when we misapply a name ; it does not cease to be a name 
because we apply it to the wrong thing. Again, a portrait is not 
an exact replica. One artist seizes points which another misses, 
and thus there may be a better and a worse portrait, and yet both 
are portraits of the same original. Why may not the same thing be 
true of the primitive names in language ? Why may not a name 
be an imperfect but real " representation " of that for which it 
stands ? (This would explain why the primitive names in different 
languages may all be genuine " vocal gestures," denoting the same 
thing, in spite of the differences between them.) Cratylus suggests 
that the analogy with portraiture does not hold. A bad portrait 
may leave out some characteristic of its original, or put in some- 
thing not present in the original, and yet be a recognizable portrait 
of the man. But in the case of a name, if, for example, we put in 
or leave out a single letter, we have not written that name at all. 

1 It has been the fashion, especially in Germany, for a generation and more, 
to connect the paradox about false-speaking specially with the name of 
Antisthenes, and to regard all the references to it in Plato as direct attacks on 
that rather insignificant person. This seems to me quite unhistorical. 
The standing assumption of Plato is that the dvriKoytKot are quite a numerous 
and fashionable body. Socrates even refers to them in the Phaedo (gob), 
where Antisthenes is supposed to be present (596) and all possibility of an 
attack on his own old friend is out of the question. The one dialogue of 
Plato's early life in which they are singled out for special satire is the Euthy- 
demus, and we see from the Cratylus itself that Euthydemus really was a well- 
known personage who held views of this kind. Isocrates too (x. i) implies 
that the " eristics " who maintain the paradox are a fairly numerous body of 
the generation before his own. lor this reason it seems to me put of the 
question to find attacks on Antisthenes in any of the Platonic dialogues in 
which Socrates is the principal figure. Whether in the later dialogues, when 
Socrates has fallen into the background, Plato ever criticizes Antisthenes on 
his own account, is another question with which we shall not be concerned 
until we come to deal with the Parmenides and Sophistes, though I believe we 
shall find reason to think that there also he has very different antagonists 
in view. 


We may reply that it is not with quality as it is with number. Any 
addition or subtraction will make, e.g., the number 10 another 
number (such as 9 or n), but a " representation " may be like the 
original without reproducing it in its details. Thus the portrait- 
painter reproduces the outward features and complexion of his 
sitter, but leaves out everything else. The sitter has entrails, 
movement, life, thought ; the picture has none, and yet it is a 
picture of him. In fact, if it did reproduce the whole reality of the 
sitter, it would not be a portrait at all but a reduplication of the 
man himself. Full and complete reproduction is thus not the kind 
of " Tightness " we require in a portrait, and we have already recog- 
nized that a name is a kind of portrait of which vocal gesture is the 
medium (4300-4336). 

If we are agreed so far, we may now say that a well-made name 
must contain the " letters " which are " appropriate " to its signi- 
fication ; i.e. those which are " like " what is signified (i.e. the 
vocal gestures which compose the name must have a natural 
resemblance to some feature in that which it names ; a name which 
contains inappropriate sounds may be still a recognizable name if 
some of its components are appropriate, but it will not be a well- 
made one). The only way of escaping our conclusions would be 
to fall back on the view that names are purely conventional and 
arbitrary. This is impossible, since in any case there must be 
some sort of natural appropriateness about the elementary com- 
ponents of vocal gesture to lead the imposers of names in the making 
of their first conventions, just as there must be in nature colouring 
materials appropriate for the reproduction of the tints of a face if 
there is to be such an art as portraiture. But we can see that 
" convention " and the arbitrary play their part in language too. 
Thus there is a " roughness " about the sound of the letter r which 
makes it appropriate in the name of anything hard and rough, 
while there is a smoothness of articulation about / which makes 
it inappropriate for the same purpose. Yet this letter actually 
occurs in the very word o^At/pos itself, and even Cratylus must 
admit that " thanks to custom " he knows what the word means. 
It discharges its function as a name none the worse for containing 
an inappropriate sound (433&-435&). In particular we should find 
it quite impossible to show that the names of the numerals are 
made up of gestures naturally appropriate to signify those particular 
numbers. The principle of natural significance, however sound, 
is a most uncertain guide in etymological studies (435&-c). 

We revert to a position we had laid down at the outset. The 
" faculty " (8wa/us) or function of a name is to convey instruction 
(StSacTfcetv). Does this imply that a man who has knowledge of 
names will also have a corresponding knowledge of the realities 
(TrpdypaTo) for which the names stand ? Cratylus is inclined to 
think so, and even to hold that the knowledge of names is the only 
way to the knowledge of things. Not only is the understanding 
(TO navOdvw) of words the one way to the understanding of 


things ; inquiry into language is the only road of inquiry and dis- 
covery. The one way to discover the truth about things is to 
discover the meanings of names (4360). But obviously this would 
put all science in a very unfavourable position. The study of 
names will only at best show what the givers of the names sup- 
posed to be the truth about things, and how if these name-givers 
were wrong in their suppositions ? Cratylus holds that we need 
not feel any anxiety on the point. The best proof that the " giver 
of names " was one who knew all about things is the consistent way 
in which all names support one and the same theory about things. 
Has not Soci ates himself shown that they all point to the Heraclitean 
doctrine of the flux (4360) ? Unfortunately this is not conclusive ; 
if you start with false initial postulates you may be led to gravely 
erroneous conclusions, and yet these conclusions may be quite 
compatible with one another, as we see in the case of certain geo- 
metrical false demonstrations. 1 The supreme difficulty in any 
science is to be sure that your initial postulates themselves are true 
(4360-^). And, on second thoughts, we may doubt whether the 
testimony of language is quite so self-consistent as we had fancied. 
There are many words which seem to indicate that the " giver of 
names " was an Eleatic rather than an Heraclitean (437^-^), and 
it would be absurd to decide on the truth of such incompatible views 
by appeal to a " numerical majority " of derivations. 

In any case, the view Cratylus is maintaining is self-contra- 
dictory. He holds that the inventors of the first names must have 
known the truth about things in order to give each its " true " 
name, and also that the truth about things can only be discovered 
by the study of names. How then did the original makers of 
names discover it ? Perhaps, says Cratylus, the first names were 
of a superhuman origin ; language began as a divine revelation, 
and its divine origin guarantees the " Tightness " of the primitive 
names. If that is so, then both our sets of derivations cannot be 
sound, or, as Cratylus says, one set of words cannot be real " names " 
at all (4380). But the question is, which set those which suggest 
the " flux " or those which suggest that movement is an illusion 
are real names ? We cannot decide the issue by appeal to other 
words, for there are no other words than those employed in language. 
The appeal will have to be to the realities words signify, and we 
shall have to learn what these realities are, not from words, but "from 
one another and from themselves " (4380). Besides, even if we 
admit that the truth about things can be learned by studying their 
names, since well-made names, as we have said, are " likenesses " 

1 436^. Siaypdp/uLara here seems, as in some other passages in Plato and 
Aristotle, to mean " proofs " rather than " figures." One might illustrate the 
point by reference to the entertaining section of De Morgan's Budget of Para- 
doxes which deals with James Smith the circle-squarer. Mr. Smith's method 
of proving his tnesis (that *= y) was to assume it as a postulate, and then 
show that it led to consequences compatible with itself and with one another. 
He forgot to ask whether it did not lead also to consequences incompatible 
with independently known truth. 


of the things they name, it must be a nobler and more assured 
method to study the reality (aA^eia) directly in itself, and judge 
of the merits of the " likeness " from our knowledge of the original 
than to try to discover from a mere study of the " likeness " whether 
it is a good one, and what it represents (4390). How a knowledge of 
realities is to be acquired it may take greater thinkers than our- 
selves to say, but it is satisfactory to have learned that at least we 
cannot acquire it by the study of names (439&). 

Socrates keeps the point on which he wishes to insist most until 
the end. Whatever the opinion of the framers of language may 
have been, the Heraclitean doctrine of universal impermanence 
cannot be true. There are such things as " Beauty " and " Good- 
ness " (OLVTO KOL\OV KOL ayaOov) and other realities of that kind. Even 
Cratylus admits this at once. He does not extend his doctrine 
of impermanence to the realm of " values." Now they cannot 
be everlastingly mutable ; they are what they are once for all and 
always. You could not call anything " the so-and-so " (avro, 439^), 
if it had no determinate character but were merely mutable. And 
the merely mutable could not be known. What is known is known 
as having this or that determinate character, but if the doctrine 
of " flux " is true, nothing ever has such determinate character. 
Not to mention that knowing as a subjective activity also has a 
determinate character, so that in a world where everything is 
incessantly becoming something else, there could be neither objects 
to be known nor the activity of knowing. But if knower (TO 
yiyvwo-Kov) , object known (TO yiyvwo-Ko/xevoi/), Beauty, Good, are 
real, the Heraclitean doctrine cannot be true. We will not now 
ask which of these alternatives is the right one, but we may say 
that it does not look a sensible procedure for a man to have such 
confidence in names and their givers that he hands over his soul 
to " names " for " tendance/ 1 and asserts dogmatically that all 
men and all things are sick of a universal " defluxion " and as 
leaky as a cracked pitcher (4400-^). This is the issue which young 
men like Cratylus and Hermogenes should face seriously and 
courageously and not decide in a hurry (440^). Thus the dialogue 
leaves with us as the great problem, or rather the two aspects of 
the same great problem of all philosophy, the metaphysical problem 
of the reality of the forms and the moral problem of the right 
" tendance of the soul. 11 1 

Eulhydemus. The dialogue, as we have said, has more of the 
spirit of broad farce than any other work of Plato ; it would be 
possible to see in it nothing more than an entertaining satire on 
" eristics " who think it a fine thing to reduce every one who opens 
his mouth in their company to silence by taking advantage of the 

1 1 can see no reason to fancy that the dialogue is intended as a polemic 
against the nominalism of Antisthenes in particular. A.'s preoccupation 
with names, like the choice of the themes for his extant declamations, only 
shows that he was influenced by the general tendencies of the " sophistic " 
age. I am wholly sceptical about theories which represent the Platonic 
Socrates as engaged in attacks on one of his own companions. 


ambiguities of language. Even if this were Plato's main object, 
it would still be a reasonable one. An attempt to detect and 
expose the principal fallacies in dictione would be a useful contri- 
bution to the as yet only nascent study of logic. It is thus not 
surprising that Aristotle should have made frequent use of the 
dialogue in his own systematic essay on Fallacies, the de Sophisticis 
Elenchis. But the real purpose of the dialogue is more serious and 
proves to be a moral one, arising out of the claim of the sophists 
of the Periclean age to be able to " teach goodness." A man who 
undertakes this task must be prepared to win the adherence of a 
pupil by satisfying him first that " goodness/' the secret of a satis- 
factory life, can be taught ; and next, that the speaker is one of the 
experts who can teach it. No one will go to school to you unless you 
can persuade him that you have something important to teach, 
and that you are competent to teach it. This accounts for the 
rise of a distinct branch of literature, the " protreptic " discourse, 
which aims at winning the hearer's assent to the idea that he 
must live the " philosophic " life, and encouraging his confidence 
that a particular teacher will show him how to do it. To this type 
of literature belonged, among other works, Aristotle's famous 
Protrepticus and Cicero's almost equally famous Latin imitation 
of it, the Hortensius, both now unhappily lost. The true object of 
the Euthydemus is to exhibit the directness, simplicity, and power 
of Socratic " protreptic," addressed to a young and impressionable 
mind ; the fooleries of the two sophists afford an entertaining 
background, without which the picture would not produce its full 
effect. We might suppose Plato to have felt that to a careless 
observer the close cross-questioning characteristic of Socrates must 
seem very much the same sort of thing as the futile sporting with 
words on which the ordinary " eristic " plumes himself. By pitting 
the one thing directly against the other he drives home his point 
that, for all their apparent minute hair-splitting, the questions of 
Socrates are no idle displays of ingenuity, but have the most 
momentous and most truly practical of all objects ; their purpose 
is to win a soul from evil for good. 

In form the Euthydemus is a narrated drama. Socrates describes 
to his old friend Crito, with a great deal of humour, a mirthful scene 
in his favourite haunt, the palaestra near the Lyceum, at which he 
had been present the day before. The supposed date can only be 
fixed by consideration of a number of bits of internal evidence. 
It is, as we see from Euthydemus, 2710, " many years " after the foun- 
dation of Thurii (444 B.C.), and must be before the year of the great 
scandal about the " profanation of the mysteries," just before the 
sailing of the Athenian Armada for Sicily (416-5), since Axiochus 
of Scambonidae, father of the lad Clinias who figures as respondent, 
was one of the principal persons ruined by the affair. 1 A date not 
later than about 420, and possibly a little earlier, seems to fit all the 

1 For the ruin of Axiochus, the uncle of Alcibiades the person whose de- 
struction was the main object of the raisers of the scandal, see Andocides, i. 16. 


indications. The centre of attraction in the dialogue is the beautiful 
and modest Clinias ; it is on his person that Euthydemus, whom we 
have already met in the Cratylus, and his brother Dionysodorus, 
natives of Chios who had been among the original settlers of Thurii, but 
found themselves banished in the years of faction which followed on 
the foundation of the city and have since then haunted Athens and her 
dependencies, make the experiment of displaying a new educational 
discovery, a method of instantaneously " teaching goodness/' 
Hitherto they had taught, like other professionals, the art of fence 
on the field and in the law-courts ; their crowning achievement is a 
recent invention which they are anxious to parade and Socrates to 
witness. It proves, in fact, to be simply " eristic/ 1 the trick of 
stopping a man's mouth by catching at the natural ambiguities of 
language. Perhaps it is an indication of date that Socrates is 
made to lay the stress he does on the contrast between this latest 
marvel and the now familiar art of effective forensic pleading which 
had been the thing taught by Protagoras and the earliest " sophists." 
The two men, however, are described as elderly, so that they will 
be at least as old as Socrates himself, and we must remember that 
though Socrates was the first Athenian to interest himself in logic, 
it had been founded by Zeno, who cannot at most have been more 
than ten years younger than Protagoras. Hence too much must 
not be made of this point. 1 The serious business of the dialogue is 
opened by Socrates in a short speech, laying down the main lines 
it is to follow. Clinias is a lad of great promise and illustrious 
connexions ; it is of the first moment that he should grow up to be 
a thoroughly good man. The sophists are therefore invited to 
prove the value of their latest discovery by convincing him " that 
one must give one's attention to goodness and philosophy " (2750). 
They fall to work at once by asking a series of questions so con- 
structed that they can only be answered by "Yes" or "No." 
and that the respondent can be equally silenced whichever answer 
he gives. The first question from its recurrence elsewhere we 
may infer that it was a " stock " puzzle turns on the double sense 
of the word yavOdvciv, which means primarily to " learn " ; but 
derivatively, in colloquial language, to " understand," " take the 
1 The pair of " eristics," Euthydemus and his brother Dionysodorus, are 
natives of Chios who had been among the first settlers at Thurii (this is implied 
by the tense of dw^Krjo-av at 271^), but had been exiled thence and have spent 
"many years " ire pi rofode roi)s T^TTOUS, i.e. Athens and the islands of the Aegean 
(ayic). The date of the foundation of Thurii is 444. Socrates is ij$rj irpce pure pot 
(2726), " not exactly a young man," but no more ; this suggests an age 
not far off fifty, but probably something short of it. Perhaps the allusion of 
272$ to the figure he cuts among the boys in the music-class of Connus is best 
taken as a humorous reference to some shaft aimed at him in the Connus 
of Amipsias (exhibited in 423), and in that case, we must suppose that play to 
be still a recent work. Alcibiades is spoken of at 275^ in a way which implies 
that he is already in the prime of manhood. 286$ refers to Protagoras in a 
way which seems to mean that he is already dead. But since Plato insists 
that Protagoras was a generation older than* Socrates (Protag. 317^) and also 
says that he died at about seventy (Meno, gie), this does not take us with 
certainty much below the year 430. 


meaning of " a statement. The eristic method of the two brothers 
may be reproduced in English by taking advantage of the double 
sense which " learning " happens to bear in our own language. 
Who are learners, the wise or the ignorant, i.e. those who already 
know something or those who do not ? There is here a triple 
equivoque, since the " wise " (<ro<oi) may mean " clever, intelligent " 
pupils, as well as persons who already know the thing to be taught, 
and the " ignorant " (dfta0c?s) may mean " the dull, stupid," as 
well as those who are ignorant of a given subject. The lad takes 
the question to mean, " Which class of boys learn what they are 
taught, the clever boys or the dull ones ? " and answers, " The 
clever." But, it is retorted, when you lads were learners in reading or 
music, you did not yet know these subjects and therefore were not 
" wise " (o-o^ot) about them, and so must have been " ignorant " 
(a/*a0ets) . And yet again, in your schooldays, it was not the 
" dull " (d/mfcis) among you, but the quick or clever (o-o^oi) who 
" took in " (cpdvOavov) what the schoolmaster dictated. Ergo, it 
is the cro^oi, not the d//,a0is who " learn." (As we might say, 
the dull don't get learning from their schoolmasters, but the quick 

A new puzzle is now started. When a man learns something, 
does he learn what he knows or what he does not know ? (This 
again is a standing catch, intended to prove the paradox that it is 
impossible to learn anything, to get new knowledge.) The natural 
answer is that a man learns what he does not already know, since 
learning means getting fresh knowledge. But when a schoolmaster 
dictates something to you, you " learn " the sense of the passage 
(you take in its meaning). What he dictated is a series of " letters," 
but you must have " known " your letters before you could do 
dictation. Thus when you " learn," you must already " know " 
the thing you are learning. Yet, per contra, to learn means to get 
knowledge, and no one can get what he already has. Ergo, after 
all, it is what you do not know that you learn (2760-2770) . 

It is clear, of course, what the origin of " eristic " of this kind is. 
Euthydemus and his brother are borrowing and degrading the 
logical method of Zeno. 1 In Zeno's hands, the deduction of 
apparently contradictory conclusions from the same premisses 
had a legitimate object. The intention was to discredit the pre- 
misses themselves. And in fact, Zeno's antinomies do establish 
the important result that the postulates of Pythagorean mathe- 
matics are incompatible with one another and require revision 
(e.g. it is indispensable to Pythagorean geometry that every straight 

1 This is made especially clear twice over (2755, 2760), by the whispered 
remark of Dionysodorus that his brother will " catch the boy out " equally 
whichever way he answers the question. This construction of " antinomies," 
to show that the affirmation and the denial of the same proposition are 
equally impossible, was the special contribution of Zeno to the development 
of logical method. There is also probably intentional point in the way in 
which we are reminded of the connexion of the brothers with Thurii the 
place, of all others, where they would be most certain to meet Eleatics. 


line should be capable of bisection, and yet, on the Pythagorean 
principles, a line may contain an odd number of " points " and 
therefore be incapable of bisection, because you cannot " split the 
unit "). With eristics like Euthydemus this hunting after " anti- 
nomies," perfectly legitimate when intended as a criticism ol pre- 
suppositions which lead to an " antinomy/' becomes a mere delight 
in entrapping the respondent into contradicting himself by mere 
neglect to guard against ambiguity in words, and its object is not 
to detect error but to produce admiration for the ingenious deviser 
of the ambiguous formula. This is the point on which Socrates 
now fastens. The two " sophists " care nothing about convincing 
Clinias of the need for " goodness and philosophy " ; their concern 
is merely to make a display of their own cleverness. Accordingly, 
Socrates interrupts the performance. He professes to think that 
what has gone before is not meant as any sample of the " wisdom " 
of the brothers. It is a mere piece of " fun/' like the sportive 
preliminaries which precede initiation into the Corybantic rites, 
or, as we might say, like those popularly supposed to precede an 
initiation into freemasonry. So far the two great men have merely 
been playing a " game " with the lad, enjoying a " practical joke " 
at his expense ; no doubt the serious part of their " protreptic " 
is yet to come. Before it comes, Socrates would like to show, by a 
conversation of his own with the boy, what, in his " foolish and 
amateur fashion " (I&WTIKWS TC KCU ycXouos), he supposes the 
drift of such exhortations must be, though, of course, he fully 
expects to be left in the shade by two such eminent professionals 

There follows at once a simple statement, in clear language such 
as a mere boy can follow, of the root ideas of Socratic ethics. Of 
course every one of us wants cv Tr/oarTeiv, to " fare well/' to 
" make a success of life." And equally, of course, making a success 
of life means having " abundance of good " (TroXXa dyafla). Now 
what things is it good to have ? " The first man you meet " will 
mention some of them : wealth, health, beauty, bodily advantages 
in general, good birth, a position of influence and respect. But 
there are other good things than these, or at least other things which 
Socrates and Clinias regard as good : sophrosyne, justice, courage, 
wisdom. Is the list of goods now complete ? Perhaps we have 
left out the most important of all, " good luck " (curuxta), without 
which any other advantages may turn out to be disguised curses. 
And yet, on second thoughts, we have not forgotten it. For wisdom 
is itself evruxta. Who have the best " luck " or " good fortune " 
in playing musical instruments, in reading and writing, in navigation, 
warfare, medicine ? The men who know how to do these things 
expert musicians, sailors, soldiers, physicians. One would, e.g., 
think it a great piece of luck in war to be serving under a com- 
petent and not under an incompetent commander. In general, 
wisdom or knowledge (oro^ca) leads to efficient achievement 
and so to " good fortune/ 1 If we have wisdom, then 


we may expect " success," " good fortune " (TO evrvxelv) in the 
department of practice which our " wisdom " covers (2780-2800). 

On reviewing these results, we see ground to criticize one of 
them, the statement that we shall be happy and " make life a 
success " (ev$aijjLovLv KOL cu Trparrciv) if we " have abundance ol 
good things." To have them will not benefit us unless we also use 
them, any more than it would benefit an artisan to have the materials 
and tools of his trade if he never used them. So, e.g., " wealth " 
is of no benefit unless we use it. And it would not be enough to 
say that we must not only have the various good things but use 
them. We must add that, to be happy, we must use them right. 
They are, in fact, dangerous tools ; if you use them in the wrong 
way you do yourself a harm ; it would be better to leave them 
alone than to use them wrongly. Now in all crafts and businesses 
it is the expert's knowledge (eVio-TT//^) of his craft which enables 
him to use his materials and implements in the right way, 
and the same thing holds good of health and wealth and the goods 
in popular esteem generally. Knowledge enables us to use wealth, 
health, and all other " advantages " rightly, and to achieve success 
(euTrpayia). If a man had all other possessions besides wisdom 
and were not directed by " sense " (vovs) in his undertakings, the 
less he undertook the fewer blunders he would make, and the 
happier he would be. It would be happier for him to be poor than 
rich, timid than courageous, sluggish and dull rather than of active 
temper and quick perception, since the less he undertook the less 
mischief he would do. In fact, none of the things we began by 
calling good can be called unconditionally (aura *a0' aura) good. 
They are better than their opposites when they are conjoined with 
the wisdom to make a right use of them (^po'i^o-is re KOL <ro<ta), 
but worse when they are disjoined from it. It follows that, properly 
speaking, there is just one thing good, wisdom, and just one bad 
thing, apaOia, "dullness," stupidity (2806-281^). (Compare the 
precisely similar line of reasoning by which Kant reaches the con- 
clusion that the good will is the only thing which is unconditionally 
good, because it is the only good which cannot be misused.) 

We may draw a final conclusion. We now see that since happi- 
ness depends on wisdom and knowledge, the one end after which 
every man should strive is to become " as wise as possible." Hence 
what we should crave to get from our parents, friends, fellow- 
citizens, alien acquaintances, before everything else, is just wisdom. 
One should be ready to " serve and slave " and render " any service 
that is comely " l to any man for the sake of wisdom ; that is to say, 
provided that wisdom can really be taught and does not " come by 
accident " (d Tavro/xctTov), a difficult question which we have not 

1 onovv TUV tca.\G)v bin)pTr]iJLdTwjf, 2826. The qualification is inserted be- 
cause tpaffral have been mentioned, and Socrates wishes to guard himself 
against being supposed to include chastity as one of the prices which mav 
be paid for " wisdom." His attitude on that point is as unqualified as Plato's 
own in the Laws. 


faced. If we may assume that wisdom can be taught, we have 
satisfied ourselves of the absolute necessity of pursuing it, "being 
philosophers " (2820-^). 

Socrates has really given us so far only half of a " protreptic 
discourse " such as would be to his mind. He has led up to the 
conclusion that happiness depends on the direction of life and 
conduct by knowledge, but has not so far told us what knowledge 
in particular it is of which we cannot make an ill use. It is funda- 
mental for his purpose that we should distinguish such knowledge 
from every recognized form of expert professional knowledge, and 
the distinction will be made later. For the present we return to 
the " comic relief " of the fooleries of Euthydemus and his brother, 
which become increasingly absurd, precisely in order that the 
heightened contrast of tone shall mark the second part of Socrates' 
discourse, when we reach it, as the most important thing in the whole 
dialogue. For the present he proposes that the "professionals" 
shall now take up the argument at this point, and decide the question 
whether one needs to learn every kind of " knowledge/ 1 or whether 
there is one special knowledge which conducts to happiness. Or, 
if they prefer, they may go over the ground he has already covered 
and do so in a less amateurish fashion. Of course they do neither ; 
their object is simply epater les bourgeois, and Dionysodorus, the 
older of the two, sets to work at once to administer a thoroughly 
sensational shock. Can Socrates and the others, who profess to 
feel so much affection for Clinias, be serious in saying that they are 
anxious that he should become " wise " ? For their language 
implies that he is not yet what they wish him to become. They 
say they want him to " be no longer what he now is " ; but to wish 
a man to " be no longer " is to wish that he may perish a pretty 
wish on the part of one's " affectionate friends " (2830-^). (Here 
again we are on Eleatic ground, and we see that it is not for nothing 
that Plato reminds us repeatedly that his two sophists had lived at 
Thurii. The argument that nothing can change, because that 
which " becomes different " is becoming " what it is not/ 1 and 
therefore becoming nothing at all, derives directly from Parmenides 
as soon as his physics are converted into logic, and, like the rest of 
the puzzles connected with it, only gets its solution when we come 
to the distinction between absolute and relative not-being intro- 
duced in the Sophistes. In our dialogue Plato is not seriously 
concerned with the solution of these difficulties ; what he is con 
cerned with is the futility of regarding them as a preparation for 
the conduct of life, and the moral levity of the professors who make 
a parade of them.) The immediate effect of the sally of Dionyso- 
dorus is to call forth from Ctesippus, an older lad deeply 
attached to Clinias, an angry complaint of the " falsity " of the 
accusation, and this gives Euthydemus an opening for airing his 
principal piece of "wisdom/ 1 which we have already met in the 
Cralylus the doctrine that all statements are true, or, as he puts 
it now, that " it is impossible to speak falsely/ 1 for the reason that 


whenever you make a statement, you must either be saying " what 
is " or saying " what is not." In the first case, you are telling 
the truth, for to " say what is," is truth-speaking. As for the 
second case, " what is not " is just nothing at all, and no one can 
speak and yet say " nothing " ; whoever speaks at all is saying 
something (283^-284^). The regular corollary is promptly drawn 
that OVK <mv di/rtXcycti/, no man can contradict another, since there 
can be no contradiction unless both parties are speaking of the 
same " thing " (the logical subject must be the same in the two state- 
ments). But since you cannot speak of a thing " as it is not/' 
in the case of apparent contradiction, one or both parties would 
have to be speaking of " what is not," and this is impossible. If 
the two parties are making significant statements at aU, since such 
statements must be statements of " what is," they must be talking 
about two different subjects, and so there is no contradiction (285^- 
286C). 1 

It is characteristic of Socrates that he insists at once on calling 
attention to the practical bearings of this piece of logical paradox. 
It implies that two men cannot even think contradictory pro- 
positions ; if a false statement is impossible, mental error is 
impossible too, and from this it follows that no one can commit an 
error in practice (^a^aprdv^v orav irpa.rrrj), and the claim of the 
brothers to be able to teach goodness must therefore be an empty 
one, for their teaching is superfluous. 2 Dionysodorus eludes the 
difficulty partly by insisting that his present assertion should be 
considered on its own merits independently of anything he may 
have said before, and partly by catching at the phrase which 
Socrates has used, that he cannot understand what the statement 
" means " (vow). How can a statement be said to " mean " 
anything ? 3 The conversation is rapidly degenerating into mere 
personalities (AoiSopta) when Socrates saves the situation by 
repeating his former suggestion that the eminent wits from Thuni 
are still only engaged on the " fun " which is to introduce their 
serious wisdom. They need to be pressed a little more, and we 
shall then get at last to the earnest. This gives him an excuse 

l Note that at 286c Socrates describes this paradox as "stale," and 
ascribes it to " Protagoras and men of a still earlier date," as, in fact, it does 
follow from the foffpuiro* ^rpov doctrine. This should dispose of the fancy that 
Antisthenes is specially aimed at in the dialogue. The " still older " person 
meant is presumably Parmenides, who expressly denies that " what is not " 
can be spoken of or named. 

1 Exactly the same point is urged against Protagoras at Theaetet. 161 c-e. 
But in that dialogue, where Plato's main purpose is epistemological, Socrates 
is careful to consider whether Protagoras might not make a rejoinder to this 
criticism (i66tf-i68c), and to examine the soundness of the rejoinder (1710- 
1726, 1780-1796). 

8 The cjuibble turns on the uses of the word votw, which signifies (a) to 
think, to intend, to purpose, (b) to mean or signify. The sophist pretends to 
take the expression " your words mean so-and-so," in the sense that they 
" intend " or " think," and asks how anything but a tyvxh can possibly 
" think " anything. There is the same Aquivoqtie in the distinction in English 
between " to mean " and " to mean to " say or do something. 


for returning to his own specimen of serious " protreptic " at the 
point where he had left off. 

We saw that the one thing needful for the conduct of life is 
knowledge. But what kind of " knowledge " ? Of course, the 
knowledge which will " profit " us, " useful knowledge." Now 
what kind of knowledge is that ? It cannot be any kind of know- 
ledge which merely teaches us how to produce something without 
also teaching us how to use the thing we have produced. This 
enables us to dismiss at once all the specialized industrial arts, 
like that of the maker of musical instruments, none of which teach 
a man how to use the thing they have taught him to make. In 
particular, this consideration applies to the art of the AoyoTroios, which 
looks so imposing. We might think that this art of composing 
effective speeches is just the kind of knowledge we need for the 
conduct of life, since it teaches us how to make the " charm " or 
" spell " which is potent against those most deadly of enemies, 
angry and prejudiced dicasteries and ecclesiae. Yet, after all, 
the important thing is to know how to use the " spell/ 1 but the 
XoyoTTotos only teaches you how to make it. 1 There might be some- 
thing to say for the soldier's profession, the art of catching a human 
prey ; but, after all, the hunter does not know how to use the game 
he captures, but has to pass it on to the cook or restaurateur ; and 
in the same way the commander who " captures " a city or an 
army has not learned from his profession what to do with his 
capture when he has made it. The military art, then, is clearly 
not the supreme art needed for the right conduct of life (288b- 

Incidentally we note that the claim of any of the purely specula- 
tive branches of knowledge, the mathematical sciences, has been 
disposed of by this criticism. The mathematicians also are, in 
their way, " hunters " on the trail of " realities " (ra WTO). But 
though their 8taypa/x/xara (here again the word means " proofs " 

1 The point here, as in the Gorgias, which classes " rhetoric " with " swim- 
ming " as a device for preserving your life, is that the patron of the \oyoTroi6* 
is normally one of the well-to-do minority of whom the Periclean democracy 
were naturally suspicious precisely because democracy really meant the 
" exploitation " of this class for the benefit of the " proletarian." From the 
well-to-do victim's point of view, effective public speaking is exactly what it 
is called here, a " spell " to put the watchful, hostile belua of democracy to 
sleep ; from the democrat's point of view, it is a trick by which the fu<r<55?;/*os 
gulls the simple citizens into taking him for the " people's friend." 

1 Socrates is made to assert that this criticism was delivered by Clinias 
on his own account ; Crito thinks such a mere boy could not have shown such 
acuteness, and hints that the remark must really have come from Socrates 
himself (2905). This is dramatically in keeping with the picture Plato has 
drawn 01 Crito a dull, honest man. But the real point is that the " pro- 
treptic " of Socrates is effective in the right way ; it elicits from a younger 
mind flashes of insight which would have been impossible but for the way 
in which the preceding questions have led up to them. This is the true 
answer to the criticism of Grote that anyone can ask puzzling questions. 
The peculiarity of the Socratic Question is not to be puzzling, but to be 


rather than " figures ") " find " the quarry, the mathematicians 
do not know how to " treat/' it ; that task, if they have any sense, 
they leave to the SiaA**?, the critical philosopher. 1 On 
scrutiny, the " art " which seems to have the best claims to suprem- 
acy is the /Sao-iAt/o) r^vr/, the " art of the king/ 1 i.e. statesman- 
ship. If there is any " speciality " which can secure happiness, 
it should certainly be that of the man who knows how to govern 
and administer the community (since, of course, no one except a 
paradox-monger would deny that " human well-being " is what all 
true statesmanship takes as its end). But with this result we seem 
to have come round in a complete circle to the same point from 
which our argument set out. It is clear that statesmanship 
(77 TroAmKT) rfyvrj) is the supreme master-art ; generals and other 
functionaries are only servants of the statesman. He uses, as 
means to his end the well-being of the state victory in war and 
all the other results which the generals and the rest make ; and we 
have seen already in the Cratylus that the art which uses a product 
is always the master-art in relation to those which made the product. 
But the statesman too has something to produce ; he uses the 
products of all the other " craftsmen " as means to producing 
something himself, and this something must be something bene- 
ficial, and therefore good. Now we had already satisfied ourselves 
that knowledge is the only thing which is unconditionally good. 
Hence, if statesmanship is really the art of the conduct of life, such 
results as wealth, civic independence, freedom from party strife, 
must be its mere by-products ; its main product must be wisdom 
and goodness. Yet what wisdom and goodness does true states- 
manship produce in those on whom it is exercised ? It does not 
aim at making them all " good " shoemakers or " good " carpenters, 
or " good " at any other special calling. Apparently we must 
say that the knowledge which the art of the statesman produces in 
us is the knowledge of itself. But what use do we make of this 
knowledge of statesmanship ? Perhaps its use is that it enables us 
to make other men good. But then we come back to the old 
question, " Good at what ? " We seem to have reached the con- 
clusion that happiness depends on knowing how to make other 
men good at knowing how to make yet other men (and so on ad 
indefinitum) good at knowing ... no one can say precisely what 

1 The point becomes clear if we think of the relation of a Pythagorean 
geometer to the typical $iaXe/crut6s Zeno. The mathematicians " track " or 
" hunt down " truths like the Pythagorean theorem, but they are so far from 
knowing what to " do with them " that it is left for a 8ta\e/mK<5s like Zeno 
to show that the discovery itself leads to consequences which are fatal to 
some of the postulates of the Pythagorean geometer (such as the incommen- 
surability of the " side " and the " diagonal "). The last word on the 
question what can be " made of " the results of the sciences rests with the 
critical " metaphysician," who has to test the claims of these sciences to give 
a finally satisfactory account of " the real." Note the complete acceptance 
here of the " primacy of the practical reason," which is as characteristic ol 
Socrates and Plato as of Kant. 


The serious positive purpose of the argument, which has in- 
cidentally slipped into becoming a direct conversation between 
Socrates and Crito, is not hard to discover. The knowledge on 
which the right conduct of life and the right government of men 
alike depend is not knowledge of the way to meet any one particular 
type of situation or to discharge any one particular calling or 
function ; it is knowkdge of good, or, to put the point in more 
modern phraseology, knowledge of absolute moral values. On the 
Socratic assumption that knowledge of this kind is always followed 
by corresponding action, and is therefore the only knowledge which 
is guaranteed against all possible misuse, the question for what we 
are to use it becomes superfluous ; we do not " use " it as a means 
to some ulterior end at all, we simply act it out. To put the matter 
in the Greek way, every " art " is an " art of opposites " ; that is, 
may be used for a bad as well as for a good end. The special know- 
ledge of toxicology which makes a man a medical specialist may 
also make him a dangerous secret poisoner. The intimate know- 
ledge of the Stock Exchange and share market which makes a 
man an excellent trustee for the fortune of his ward will also 
make him a particularly dangerous " fraudulent trustee " if he 
applies it for dishonest ends. But " knowledge of the good " 
is in a unique position which distinguishes it from all special 
professional or technical knowledge, the thing with which the 
" sophists " and their pupils regularly confuse it. It too, 
in a sense, is " of opposites, " since to know what is good in- 
volves knowing that what is incompatible with good must be evil. 
But, on Socratic principles, this knowledge is not a knowledge of 
opposites in the sense that it can be put to either of two opposite 
uses, a good one and a bad one. The possession of the knowledge 
carries along with it the possession of the " good will." We thus 
recover the fundamental positions of the Socratic ethics from the 
apparently fruitless argument. The reason why the positive result is 
not stated is simply that the object of Socrates' " protreptic " is 
not to do another man's thinking for him and present him with 
ready-made " results," but to stimulate him to think along the 
right lines for himself, so that when the " result " emerges, it 
comes as a personal conviction won by a genuine personal exercise 
of intelligence. Hence Socrates is represented as breaking off at 
the point we have reached, and appealing to the two distinguished 
strangers to help him out of the " squall " in which he seems to be 
threatened with shipwreck. As we should expect, they do nothing 
of the kind, but fall to their old trick. $ Socrates does not need any 
help, for they will prove to him that he already has the knowledge 
for which he is seeking. He knows some things, ergo he has know- 
ledge ; but one cannot both have knowledge and not have it, ergo 
he knows everything. And so, for the matter of that, does every 
one else (2930-0). Euthydemus and his brother have, in fact, a 
sort of universal infallibility ; they know all trades and the answers 
to all the most trifling speculative questions. This, says Socrates, 


must be the great truth to which all that has gone before was the 
playful prelude. 1 

From this point onwards the dialogue becomes increasingly 
farcical as the two brothers go on to develop one absurdity after 
another, until Socrates, the only member of the company who has 
preserved his gravity, takes his leave of them with many ironical 
compliments and the advice to take care, in their own interests, not 
to cheapen the price of their wisdom by too many public exhibitions. 
There is no need to follow in detail the whole series of ludicrous 
paralogisms which precedes this finale. Aristotle found good 
material in it for his own study of fallacies, but Plato's object is 
ethical rather than logical, as has been already said. 2 The extreme 
absurdity of the performances by which the brothers follow up the 
second and more important part of the " protreptic " argument are 
merely meant to throw that section of the dialogue into the strongest 
relief. The one comment it may be worth while to make is that the 
standing rule of " eristic/ 1 by which the respondent is expected to 
reply to each question exactly as it has been put, without raising 
any objection to its form or qualifying his answer by the introduc- 
tion of any distinguo, however simple, of itself provides exceptional 
opportunity for the perpetration of every kind of " fallacy in the 
diction." From this point of view much of the dialogue might be 
said to be a criticism of the method of question and answer as a 
vehicle of philosophic thought. It is clear, and Plato may have 
meant to hint this, that the method is the most uncertain of 
weapons unless the questioner combines intelligence with abso- 
lutely good faith ; this is why it may be a powerful weapon of 
criticism in the hands of Socrates, but is nothing but an instru- 
ment of sophistry in those of a Euthydemus whose only object is to 
make men stare. 

At the end of Socrates' narrative, Plato adds a sort of appendix, 
a page or two of direct conversation between Socrates and Crito. 
Crito observes that the remark had already been made to him by a 
certain writer of speeches for the law-courts who fancied himself a 
" great wit " (vaw cro<os), that the disgraceful scene in the Lyceum 
was enough to show that " philosophy " is " mere waste of time " 
(ovScv 7r/oay/Aa), for the professionals who had just been making 
egregious fools of themselves were actually among its most eminent 

1 We are still dealing with the misuse of Eleatic doctrine. The proof of 
the infallibility of every one is made to turn on the principle of contiadiction 
plus the neglect of qualifying conditions. We cannot both have knowledge 
and not have it ; if you know anything, you have knowledge, and therefore 
have all knowledge. This is just the Eleatic doctrine that there is no half-way 
house between " what is " and blank nonentity, transferred from physics 
to logic. Whenever we come on dim\ayiKol we are safe in looking for the 
influence of Zeno. 

1 Note that at 30 ia Socrates, without any explanation, falls into the 
technical language of the so-called " ideal " theory when he says that *a\d 
wpdyftara are different from aM rb Ka\6v, though a certain /rdXXos " is present " 
to them, and that this peculiar Socratic use of the word irapelvai is even made 
the subject of a jest. 


living representatives. The critic who made the remark was not 
himself a political man, nor had he ever addressed a law-court, 
but had the reputation of being a skilled professional composer of 
speeches for litigants (3046-3050). Socrates replies that these men, 
who, as Prodicus once said, are on the border-line between politics 
and philosophy, are always jealous of the philosopher ; they think 
he keeps them out of rightful recognition. The truth is, that the 
man who tries to combine two callings is regularly inferior in 
both to the man who confines himself to one. // the philosophic 
life and the life of affairs are both good things, the man who tries 
to play both parts is certain to be inferior in each to the specialist 
in his own line (3050-306^). 

Ic has naturally been suspected that there is some personal 
allusion underlying these remarks, and the view has often been taken 
that Plato is aiming a shaft on his own account at his rival Isocrates. 
It is true, of course, that during the lifetime of Socrates, Isocrates 
was known only as a Aoyoypa<o9 or composer of speeches for the 
courts, but that some time early in the fourth century he gave up 
this profession for that of presiding over a regular institution for 
the preparation of young men of promise for a political career. 
It is true also that Isocrates called the kind of education he bestowed 
on his pupils his " philosophy," and that he affected to look down 
on the severely scientific studies of Plato's Academy as " useless " 
and unpractical. From Plato's point of view, it would be highly 
d propos to speak of Isocrates as "on the border line " between a 
politician and a philosopher, and inferior to each in his own depart- 
ment except that one might doubt whether Plato did really think 
Isocrates inferior in statesmanship to the commonplace Athenian 
men of affairs of his own time. 

Yet I think the identification quite impossible. At the date 
indicated by all the allusions of the Euthydemus Isocrates would 
still be no more than a lad, whereas the person spoken of by Crito 
is already a Xoyoypa^og of established repute. Still less could 
Socrates, at this date, be supposed to anticipate that Isocrates 
would some day lay claim to the reputation of a philosopher. (The 
case is rather different with the express references of the Phaedrus 
to Isocrates, since, as we shall see, the date of that dialogue is 
supposed to be later.) We must suppose Socrates to be alluding 
rather to some well-known figure of the time of the Archidamian 
war. There is no reason why there should not have been more 
than one personage of the age to which Callicles and Thrasymachus 
belong who fancied himself as a blend of the philosophical thinker 
and the practical " statesman." The remains of Antiphon " the 
sophist," for example, suggest by their character that he might 
perfectly well be the person intended, and we know from a notice 
preserved by Xenophon l that he was among the acquaintances of 

1 Xen. Mem. i. 6. It is important to note, as Professor Burnet has 
done, that the information cannot depend on Xenophon's personal recollec- 
tions, but must have been taken from some source describing Socrates a? he 


Socrates. It is true that there is no direct proof that he was a 
writer of speeches for the law-courts, but there is no reason why he 
may not have been. In fact, it does not seem to me by any means 
established that Antiphon the " sophist " and Antiphon of Rhamnus, 
the famous politician and Aoyoypa^os, are two distinct persons. 1 
And I feel sure that we have no right wantonly to attribute to Plato 
the anachronisms which a reference to Isocrates in our dialogue 
would imply, nor is there, in point of fact, any real evidence that 
there ever was any personal ill-feeling between Isocrates and Plato. 2 
The real object of the passage is probably simply to recognize the 
fact that to a good many persons the dialectic of Socrates must have 
seemed much on a par with the frivolities of Euthydemus and 
his brother, and to hint that, if we choose, we may discover the 
real difference between the two things from the dialogue itself, as 
we certainly can. 

See further : 

RITTER, C. Platon, i. 450-462 (Euthydemus), 462-496 (Cvatylus). 
RAEDER, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 137-153- 
STEWART, J. A. Plato's Doctrine of Ideas, 34-39 (Cratylus.) 
WARBURG, M. Zwei Fragen zum Kratylos. (Berlin, 1929.) 

was at the time of the Archidamian war. This gives it all the more historical 

1 The question should probably be decided, if decided at all, on linguistic 
and stylistic grounds. But are the remains of the " sophist " extensive enough 
to permit of effective comparison with those of the Xoyoypd^os ? And to 
what extent should we expect to find a \oyoypd<f>os exhibiting in his composi- 
tions for the courts the peculiarities of his personal literary style ? Professor 
S. Luria calls my attention in particular to two articles by Bignone in the 
Rendiconti del R. Istituto Lombard, di scienze, 1919, pp. 567 f., 755 If., as estab- 
lishing the non-identity of the two men. I regret that I have not myself 
seen these essays. 

8 On this point see the remarks of Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part I., 215. 
Isocrates may have enjoyed aiming his shafts at the Academic mathematics, 
but the deliberate adoption of Isocratean tricks of style in the Sophistes and 
the other later dialogues seems to show that Plato is not likely to have borne 
him any malice on account of his inability to appreciate science, 


THE Gorgias is a much longer work than any we have yet 
considered, and presents us with an exposition of the Socratic 
morality so charged with passionate feeling and expressed 
with such moving eloquence that it has always been a prime 
favourite with all lovers of great ethical literature. The moral 
fervour and splendour of the dialogue, however, ought not to blind 
us, as it has blinded most writers on Platonic chronology, to certain 
obvious indications that it is a youthful work, earlier in composition, 
perhaps, than some of those with which we have been concerned. 
We might have inferred as much from the mere fact that Plato 
has adopted the form of the direct dialogue for so considerable a 
' work, and thus missed the chance of giving us a description of the 
personality of Gorgias to compare with his elaborate portrait of 
Protagoras. Personally, I cannot also help feeling that, with all 
its moral splendour, the dialogue is too long : it " drags. 1 ' The 
Plato of the Protagoras or Republic, as I feel, would have known 
how to secure the same effect with less expenditure of words ; 
there is a diffuseness about our dialogue which betrays the hand 
of the prentice, though the prentice in this case is a Plato. For 
this reason I think it a mistake in principle to look, as some have 
done, for an ethical advance in doctrine as we pass from the 
Protagoras to the Gorgias. As we shall see when we come to deal 
with the Protagoras, the ethical doctrine of the dialogues is identical, 
and it is inconceivable to me that any reader of literary sensibility 
can doubt which of the two is the product of a riper mastery of 
dramatic art. Beyond this general statement that the Gorgias must 
be an early work, and probably a work dating not many years after 
the death of Socrates, I do not think it safe to hazard any con- 
jecture as to the date of composition. 1 

1 We shall see when we come to deal with the Republic that it, and con- 
sequently any dialogues which precede it, must be dated not much later than 
387, within twelve years of Socrates' death. If the Gorgias falls early in this 
period, we must place its composition quite soon after that event, while the 
feelings connected with it were still in their first freshness in Plato's mind. 
Professor Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, in his Plato, i. 221, ii. 94-105, makes an 
ingenious attempt at a more exact dating. He starts from the curious mis- 
quotation of Pindar's well-known lines about p6juoj, as given by all our best MSS. 
at Gorgias 4846 (where the text has been corrected back again in all the printed 
editions). He rightly, as it seems to me, holds that the misquotation is what 
Plato actually wrote, and then goes on (again, I believe, rightly) to infer from 



It is unusually difficult to determine the date at which the 
conversation is supposed to be held. It has sometimes been sup- 
posed that a reference made by Socrates to some occasion when he 
was a member of the committee of the /3ov\rj who had to preside 
over the meetings of the lKK\rj<ria, and raised a laugh by his ignor- 
ance of the formalities to be observed in " putting the question " 
(Gorg. 473*), has to do with the events of the trial of the generals at 
Arginusae, where we know from both Plato and Xenophon that 
Socrates actually was one of the presiding committee. If this 
interpretation were certain, we should have to suppose the con- 
versation to fall somewhere in the last year of the Peloponnesian 
war, when Athens was fighting with her back to the wall for her 
very existence. There are certainly no signs in the dialogue that 
this situation is presupposed ; it seems rather to be taken for 
granted that the political and commercial life of the city is in a 
normal condition. Moreover, as Burnet has said, the democracy 
was in no laughing mood at the trial of the generals, and we thus 
seem forced to suppose that the reference is to some unknown 
incident which happened on some former occasion when Socrates 
was a member of the /SovA*?. 1 On the other side, it would appear 
from the opening sentences of the dialogue that Socrates is as yet a 
complete stranger to Gorgias and his profession, and this suggests 
that Gorgias is in Athens for the first time. There seems no good 
reason to deny the statement of Diodorus Siculus that Gorgias 
visited Athens first as a member of the embassy sent thither by his 
native city, Leontini, in the year 427, and such a date would fit in 
very well with certain other indications in the work, e.g. the refer- 
ence to the " recent " death of Pericles, 2 and the statements about 
the almost despotic power of the Athenian demagogue. 8 (These 
would suit the time when the place of Pericles was being taken by 
Cleon and men of his stamp to perfection.) Possibly, too, the date 

Libanius' Apology of Socrates that the accusation of misquoting Pindar had 
figured in the pamphlet of Polycrates against Socrates published somewhere 
about 393. His final inference is that the accusation was based on this 
passage of the Gorgias, which must thus be anterior to the pamphlet of 
Polycrates. I hope to suggest reasons for believing that the misquotation 
in Plato is conscious and made for a legitimate purpose. At this point I 
merely wish to observe that it cannot have been the foundation of an accusa- 
tion against the memory of Socrates for two conclusive reasons : (i) that in 
any case a misquotation in Plato would be no proof of anything against 
Socrates, and (2) that the person who is made by Plato to misquote Pindar is 
not Socrates, but Callicles, who is arguing against him. Polycrates, to judge 
from the line Isocrates takes with him (Isoc. xi. 1-8), was pretty much of a 
fool, but it is hard to believe that he could have used a misquotation put by 
Plato into the mouth of Callicles to damage the reputation of Socrates. At 
the same time, I feel no doubt that the Gorgias was written as early as Pro- 
fessor Wilamowitz holds, and most probably earlier. 

1 This is quite compatible with the statement of Apology, 326 i. Socrates 
says there that he has been a member of the /fovXi}. He does not say that he 
had only served once in that capacity. See Burnet's note in he. cit. The best 
historians hold that Xenophon has made a slip in saying that Socrates was the 
Anerdrijf at the famous trial. 

1 Gorgias, 503$. Ibid. 466$. 


would not be too early for the allusion to the handsome Demus, 
the son of Plato's own stepfather Pyrilampes, as a reigning beauty, 
though there may be a very small anachronism here since Aristo- 
phanes first mentions the craze for Demus in the Wasps, which 
belongs to the year 422. l On the other side, again, we find the 
Antiope of Euripides quoted as a well-known and popular work, 2 
and the date of that tragedy seems to be c. 408. The career of 
Archelaus of Macedon, again, comes in for a good deal of discussion, 3 
and it has commonly been inferred from Thucydides that his reign 
did not begin until 414-413, though disputed successions and the 
simultaneous existence of several pretenders to the crown were so 
common in Macedonia that we cannot build very confidently on 
such data. It is very unfortunate that we have no independent 
information about Callicles of Acharnae, who appears ill the dialogue 
as a cultivated and ambitious young man who has lately entered 
political life, though the mere fact that Plato specifies his deme is 
enough to show that he is an actual man, and not, as has been 
suggested, an alias for some one. If he really attempted to act 
up to the Nietzschian theories ascribed to him in the dialogue, it 
may not be wonderful that no record of his career has survived. 
In the names which Plato gives as those of his immediate associates 
we recognize some which were prominent in the second half of the 
great war, but, of course their early days would belong to its 
first half. On the whole, the arguments for an early dramatic 
date seem to preponderate, though the references to the Antiope 
and the usurpation of the Macedonian crown by Archelaus, 
especially the second, seem to create a little difficulty. 4 

The characters of the dialogue besides Socrates are four Gorgias, 
the famous " orator " of Leontini, whose well-known rhetorical 
devices for adding pomp and glitter to language represent the first 
stage in the development of a literary prose style rising above 
colloquialism or bald narration of matter of fact and yet remaining 
prose ; Polus of Agrigentum, his enthusiastic disciple and admirer ; 
Callicles of Acharnae, of whom we only know what Plato has 
thought fit to tell us ; and Chaerephon, the lean, impetuous, and 
apparently rather superstitious companion of Socrates, whom 

1 Gorgias, 481^, Aristoph. Wasps, 89. 

* Gorgias, 4840-486^. Since Aristotle appears to have been the first person 
to attempt to construct a chronology of the Attic drama by making a collection 
of didascaliae, I should have attached no importance to this particular point 
but for the fact that if the commonly accepted view about the date of the 
Antiope is correct Plato must pretty certainly have seen the performance 

8 Ibid. 470^-47 id. 

* The way in which Nicias is mentioned at 472*2 certainly seems to assume 
that he is living and at the very height of his prosperity. This would 
exclude any date much later than the sailing of the Syracusan expedition in 
415. The difficulties seem to me to be created by the very wealth of topical 
allusions for which the dialogue is remarkable. It would be very hard, in 
the absence of something like the complete files of a newspaper, to make so 
many of these allusions without falling into a small error here or there, and 
there were no newspapers or gazettes at Athens. 


Aristophanes finds so useful as a butt. 1 The precise scene is not 
indicated ; apparently it is not in the house of Callicles, who is 
acting as host to the distinguished visitor, but in some public place 
where Gorgias has been giving a display of his gifts. 2 The ostensible 
subject of the conversation must be carefully distinguished from 
the real subject. Professedly the question propounded for dis- 
cussion is the new speciality which Gorgias has introduced to 
Athens, the art of impressive speech ; the points to be decided are 
whether it is really an " art " at all, and if it is, whether it is, as 
Gorgias claims, the queen of all other " arts." But to discover 
the real object of the work we need to look carefully at the general 
construction of the argument, and particularly at the end of the 
whole composition. If we do this, we find that the dialogue really 
consists of three successive conversations of Socrates with a single 
interlocutor ; it has, so to say, three scenes, each with two " actors." 
In the first conversation between Socrates and Gorgias the topic 
of conversation really is the character and worth of the " rhetori- 
cian's " art ; in the second, between Socrates and Polus, we find 
that the rival estimates of the worth of rhetoric depend on sharply 
contrasted ethical convictions about the true happiness of man. 
In the final conversation with Callicles, where the tone of the dialogue 
reaches its level of highest elevation, all secondary questions have 
fallen completely into the background and we are left with the 
direct and absolute conflict between two competing theories of life, 
each represented by a striking personality. The true object of the 
whole work thus emerges : it is to pit a typical life of devotion to 
the supra-personal good against the typical theory and practice of 
the " will to power " at its best. We are to see how the theory of 
the " will to power," expounded by a thoroughly capable, intelligent, 
and far from merely ignoble champion, like Callicles, and the 
" practice " of it as embodied in Periclean Imperialism look from 
the point of view of a Socrates, and also how the convictions and 
career of a Socrates look to the intelligent worshipper of " strength " ; 
and when we have looked at each party with the eyes of the other, 
we are to be the judges between them. Life and the way it should 
be lived, not the value of rhetoric, is the real theme, exactly as the 
real theme of the Republic is not the merits and demerits of com- 
peting political and economic systems, but " righteousness, temper- 
ance, and judgment to come." 3 

1 For the leanness, cf. Aristoph. Clouds, 502-503 ; for the impetuousness, 
Apology, 2 1 a, cr<po5p6s <f> 6n 6pfj,-/i<rcicv ; for the superstition, Aristoph. Birds, 
*553 where his taste for things ghostly is burlesqued by making him the 
fraudulent confederate who plays the " spirits " in Socrates* stances. 

* Or perhaps we are to suppose that Socrates and Callicles meet in the 
street, and that the scene changes to the house of Callicles after the opening 

3 The Gorgias stands in sharp contrast with the greatest of the dialogues 
in respect of the way in which the three sections of which the argument consists 
are marked off, like scenes on the Greek or French stage, by the putting 
forward of a new respondent to bear the brunt of the argument. Where his 
dramatic geuius is at its highest, Plato is accustomed to interweave the 


Formally the dialogue opens in a familiar way. Socrates is 
anxious to discover tne precise"cEafacter of the an or JJ speciality " 
(TCX^) profession by Gorgias, the art of "rhetoric." It is, as 
Gprgias says (449^), an arLpf" speech "~ or "discourse 11 (^pl 
Aoyovs), and as such it makes those who possess it skilled in " speak- 
ing/' and therefore, since speech is the expression of thoughTbr 
intelligence, makes them intelligent (Swarov? <pov<V, 4500) about 

something. But this is far from an adequate definition. We 
may say that " arts " are of two kinds : the operations of the 
one kind are wholly or chiefly manual, those of the other kind are 
purely or principally effected by Aoyot, " discourses " (450^), a 
first intimation of the distinction, which becomes fundamental in 
Plato's later dialogues and in the philosophy of Aristotle, between 
" theoretical " and " practical " sciences. Now rhetoric is not the 
only " art " of the second kind ; there are many others, such as 
theoretical and practical arithmetic (apiB^riKri and XoytoriK^), 
geometry, medicine, and others, in which manual operations play 
no part or a subordinate one ; but Gorgias certainly does not mean 
to say that he teaches medicine or mathematics. To complete the 
definition we need to know what is the subject-matter with which 
the " discourse " of the rhetorician is concerned, as the " discourse " 
of the arithmetician is concerned with " the odd and even " (i.e. 
with the properties of the integer-series (4510-^)). Gorgias thinks 
it enough to say that the subject-matter is " the most important 

of human concerns " (TO. psy terra TWV av^/owTrettur 7r/my/xaTa/), " the 

supreme interests of mankind." But a statement of this kind, 
which attempts to define by means of a mere formula of laudation, 
is ambiguous, since there are different opinions on the question 
what is the " great concern " of man. A physician might say that 
it is health, an economist or a business man that it is wealth. 
Hence, though Gorgias may be right in his estimate of his art, the 
estimate itself presupposes an answer to the ethical question what 
is the chief good for man (452^). Gorgias replies that the chief 
good for man is eAr0pt'a, freedom, in the sense of having his own 
way and being able to impose his will on his fellow-citizens, and 
that it is rhetoric, the art of persuasive or plausible speech which 
produces this good (452^). Thus the thought is that " power " 
is the chief good and that rhetoric, the art of persuasion, is the 
supreme art, because, in the life of a city like Athens, persuasive 
eloquence is the great weapon by which the statesman acquires 
power ; the persuasive speaker gets his policy adopted by the 
ecclesia, his financial schemes by the ftovX^ and successfully 
impeaches his opponents and defends his partisans before the 
dicasteria. The secret of a Pericles, for example, is simply his 
command over the resources of persuasive eloquence. Gorgias 
holds that he can teach this secret to a pupil, and that is why he 
regards his own r^vy as the supreme achievement of the human 
threads of his plot more subtly. This, again, is a fair ground for an inference 
about the place of the dialogue in the series of Plato's works. 


intelligence. 1 It should be noted that the hint is thus given early 
in the dialogue that the real problem to be discussed is the ethical 
question, not formally reached until we come to the scene in which 
Callicles is the respondent, whether " power," unchecked freedom to 
do as one likes and to make others do as one likes, is the highest 
good. The dispute about the "merits" of the art of rhetoric is 
wholly subservient to this ethical purpose and is mainly introduced 
because, in a Greek democracy, facility and persuasiveness in speech 
were necessarily the chief instruments by which such " power " 
was to be attained. 2 

We know now what Gorgias means by " rtietgric " : he means 
an "jirt" of^ersnasion. It is an " art " because ifis, or claims 
o~T>e, reducible to intelligible principles ; its end or aim is to 
" persuade " men to accept the views of the practitioner, and 
so to make them consenting instruments of his will. But the 
definition has the fault of being too wide : it does not, in fact, 
state the specific differentia of the orator's accomplishment. 
There are other "arts," including that of the arithmetician, of 
which we might equally say that they are arts by which men are 
persuaded to accept the specialist's opinion, since they " teach " 
us certain truths, and he who is taught is certainly persuaded of 
the things taught him. We must ask then, further, what kind 
of persuasion does rhetoric employ, and about what matters does 
it produce persuasion? (4540). Gorgias replies that rhetoric is 
the kind of persuasion employed " before dicasts and mobs in 
general," and that it persuades about " matters of right and 
wrong," i.e. it is the art of effective public speaking on ques- 
tions of morality (4546). This at once suggests an important 
distinction. Persuasion or conviction (TO irwTww) may be pro- 
duced by instruction or without it. In the first case, a man 
is not only persuaded to hold an opinion, he is led to know- 
ledge; in the second, he is convinced but does not really know 
that his conviction is true. Now obviously a " mob " cannot be 
conducted to knowledge on grave and complicated issues in the 
short time required for the delivery of an effective speech. The 
orator, therefore, must be a practitioner of the mere persuasion 
which does not produce real knowledge. We must expect, then, 

We are certainly dealing here with a thesis actually maintained by 
Gorgias. For in the Philebus, Protarchus remarks (Phileb. tfa-b) that he 
had often heard Gorgias maintain that the art of persuasion is far superior 
to all others, because the man who possesses it can make every one do hia 
will and do it voluntarily. Obviously the reference is not to the Gorgias 
itself (though 458^ implies that an audience is present at the discussion), 
but to some statement actually made in a discourse of Gorgias. Gorgias 
452(i fl. clearly refers to the same statement and probably reproduces it 
with close fidelity. 

1 We might say, in fact, that the great weakness of ancient democracy was 
that it really meant government by irresponsible orators, as modern demo- 
cracy tends to mean government by equally irresponsible " pressmen." 


that such a man will not attempt to persuade his audience about 
matters which obviously demand special technical knowledge, 
such as naval and military engineering, but only about " right and 
wrong " (which are popularly held not to be questions for specialists). 
Yet, as Gorgias observes, the greatest naval and military con- 
structions of Athens the dockyards, the harbours, the " long walls " 
were undertaken not at the instigation of engineering specialists, 
but at that of Themistocles and Pericles, who were eminent 
"orators," but not engineers. In fact, you will find that before 
any public audience a skilful orator will always succeed in 
proving more " convincing " than an " expert " who is no orator, 
even on questions which fall within the expert's province. The 
" orator " who knows nothing of medicine, for example, will always 
be more persuasive, even on a medical question, than the medical 
specialist who is no orator. In general, the man who is merely 
an " orator " who understands his business will be able to pass 
himself off before the public as a consummate authority in matters 
where he has no real technical knowledge at all, and this is precisely 
the secret of his power. (The trick is that habitually employed 
in our own age by the able and eloquent advocate " speaking from 
his brief/ 1 and the view of Gorgias amounts to holding that states- 
manship is just a matter of consummate skill in speaking from a 
brief.) To be sure, bad men may employ this formidable weapon 
for the worst of ends, but that is not the fault of the teacher from 
whom they have learned to use it, but their own. It is as absurd 
to blame the teacher for a pupil's abuse of the art as it would be 
to hold a boxer or fencing-master responsible for a foul blow struck 
by one of his pupils (455^-457^). Thus we see that Gorgias makes 
no claim to " teach goodness." It is important that his pupils 
should make a right, not a wrong, use of the weapons he teaches 
them to use, but his concern is merely to teach the " manage " of 
the weapons. 

There is an obvious weak point in this commendation of the 
orator's art, and Socrates fastens on it at once. The " orator, 11 by 
Gorgias' own account, is no " expert," and the " mob " or " crowd " 
before whom he succeeds in silencing the real expert are not experts 
either. Thus, on the showing of Gorgias himself, oratory is a 
device by which an ignorant man persuades an audience equally 
ignorant with himself that he understands a question better than 
the expert who really knows about it. Does this apply to the 
moral issues with which the " orator " will be largely concerned ? 
Does he need to know no more about right and wrong, honour and 
dishonour, than about, e.g., naval engineering or medicine ? If he 
does need knowledge of this kind, where is he to get it, since Gorgias 
has explained that it is not his own business to impart it ? Gorgias, 
rather inconsistently, suggests that, in case of need, a pupil might 
incidentally get the knowledge of right and wrong from himself ; 
in any case, he needs to have it. The " orator " must be St'/cotos, 
" a moral man/' (If he were not, of course, he might make the 


worst use of his oratorical skill.) But if he is " a moral man," 
he will not have the wish to do wrong. At this rate, a true orator 
would never abuse his skill, and this seems inconsistent with the 
former contention that when an orator does misuse his art, the 
blame lies with himself and not with his teacher (457^4616). 

So far our results have come to this : it has at least been sug- 
gested that a statesman, who owes his power in a democracy to 
skill in persuasion, need not be an expert in any of the technical 
arts, but does require sound moral principles, though it is not 
quite clear how he is to come by them. Here Gorgias retires from 
the argument, and his place is taken by his younger disciple and 
admirer Polus, who is prepared to break with conventional views 
about morality, as the respectable Gorgias is not. According to 
Polus, Socrates has taken an unfair advantage of the conventional 
modesty which had led Gorgias to disclaim the status of a pro- 
fessional teacher of right and wrong. The disclaimer was a mere 
piece of good manners, and Socrates has himself committed a 
breach of manners in pretending to take it seriously. Polus also 
insists that Socrates shall play the part of " respondent " and 
submit his own definition of rhetoric for examination, as Socrates, 
in fact, is quite willing to do. According to this definition, which 
opens the second of the three sections of the dialogue, rhetoric is 
not an "art," a matter of expert knowledge, at all. It is a mere 
empirical " knack " (c/xTreipta, Tpi/?r?), and more precisely, a 
" knack of giving pleasure " (4620). In this respect it is like 
confectionery. The confectioner pleases the palates of his cus- 
tomers by a clever combination of flavours, and the " orator " 
in the same way " tickles the ears of the groundlings " by attractive 
combinations of words and phrases. It is meant that neither 
confectionery nor oratory is really an application of rational prin- 
ciples ; you cannot lay down rules for either, since both are mere 
tricks of gratifying the tastes of a body of patrons, and in each case 
the trick depends on nothing more scientific than a tact which 
cannot be taught but only picked up by long personal experience 
of successes and failures. There is thus nothing " fine " about 
either ; they are both branches of a " knack " for which the proper 
name is KoXaKeia, " humouring the moods of a patron," l " acting 
the parasite." 

We may, in fact, distinguish four species of this KoA.aKta, 
each of which is a spurious counterfeit or " ghost " (etSoAov) of a 
real science or art. We start from the now familiar Socratic con- 

1 The word must not be translated " flattery." The successful demagogue 
often scores his point better by "slanging " his audience than by flattering 
them. In the language of the fifth century, *6\a meant what the new 
comedy calls ira/>d<nros, the " trencherman " or sycophant or toady who keeps 
his place at a great man's table by compliance with his moods, like the 
" hangers-on " of Gaunt House in Thackeray. The thought of Socrates is 
that the " statesman " who supposes himself to be imposing his will on the 
" many-headed monster '" is merely adroitly " pandering " to the creature's 
lusts. This is the verdict of philosophy on all successful " opportunism." 


ception of the " tending " of a thing. There is a double art oi 
tending the body, that is, of keeping it in a state of health and 
fitness, and a corresponding double art of tending the soul. In the 
case of the body, the two arts of " tending " have no common 
name ; they are those of " gymnastic/' bodily culture (which sets 
up the ideal of true bodily " fitness "), and medicine (whose function 
it is to restore the " unfit " to health). The art of " tending " the 
soul has a single name ; it is called TroAm/a/, " statesmanship " : 
but it also has two branches, legislation (vo^ofoTiKT?), which sets 
the standard of spiritual health, and " justice " (or righteousness, 
SiKaiocruV^) , which corrects and repairs disease in the soul. Each 
of these four is a genuine art ; it aims at the good or true best con- 
ditjon of body or soul, and thus rests on a scientific knowledge of 
good and evil. The regulations of " gymnastic " and medicine 
are based on knowledge of what is wholesome for the body, those 
of the legislator and the judge on knowledge of what is wholesome 
for the soul. But each of the four arts has its counterfeit, and the 
counterfeit differs from the true art in taking as its standard the 
pleasant and not the good. Thus the confectioner is a counterfeit 
of the physician. The physician aims at prescribing the diet which 
will be wholesome for us, the confectioner at prescribing that which 
will please our palates. Now it is possible to know what diet is 
wholesome, but you can only discover what diet will please a man's 
palate by guesses based on long acquaintance with his moods and 
whims, and even when you guess right, the dishes you prepare will 
commonly not be good for your patron. 

In the same way, KOju/xum/crj, the " art," if you could call it 
so, of bodily adornment (the calling of the friseur, the professional 
beautifier, the jeweller, and many others), is a parody of the genuine 
art of the trainer. " Gymnastic " makes the body inherently 
attractive and graceful by training it in the exercises which produce 
genuine grace, agility, and vigour ; KOfi/Mmm; mimics this real art 
by producing a sham grace and charm effected by the artifice of 
cosmetics, fashionable clothes, and the like. (Here, again, there is 
no real standard, nothing but the caprice of the passing " fashion. 11 ) 
So with the arts which have to do with the health of the soul. The 
sophist professes to teach goodness, but what he teaches as goodness 
is merely the kind of life which is likely to recommend itself to his 
auditors ; the " orator " claims to be the physician of the disorders 
of the body politic, but the measures he recommends only persuade 
his audience because he is careful to recommend what is agreeable 
to their mood of the moment. Thus we may define rhetoric by 
saying that it is the counterfeit of one part of " politics/' namely, of 
justice (4630-4660). * 

Polus urges in reply that rhetoric cannot be a form of KoXaWa, 

1 The most extravagant " public man " always insists that he is only 
advocating the " just rights " of his nation, or church, or class. But a " just 
right" in his mouth means, in fact, whatever his supporters are keenly set on 


since the " hanger-on " is a disreputable character, whereas the 
" orator " is the most powerful person in the community, and, it is 
implied, the figure of highest consequence. He can use his influence 
to secure the banishment of anyone he pleases, to confiscate his 
goods, even to procure his execution. Thus he is virtually an 
autocrat with no superior. Socrates admits the fact, but denies the 
inference that either orator or autocrat is really powerful, if by 
" power " you mean anything which it is good for a man to have. 
The autocrat, recognized or unrecognized, no doubt always does 
"as he thinks good/' but for that reason he never does " what he 
wishes " (4660). And it is not good for a man to do " as he thinks 
good " if his thinking is false. To explain the point more fully, 
we may put it thus. There are many things which we do, not for 
the mere sake of doing them, but as means to something else, as 
when a man drinks a disagreeable medicine at his doctor's order, 
for the sake of recovering health, or follows the fatiguing and 
dangerous calling of the sea with a view to making a fortune. In 
all such cases, where a thing is done as a means to some ulterior end, 
it is the ulterior end, not the disagreeable or indifferent means to it, 
that the man wishes for. 1 And he wishes for the end because he 
thinks it a good. So when we put a man to death, or banish him, 
or confiscate his property, we always have an ulterior end. We only 
do these things because we think they will be " useful " in view of 
that end. If the autocrat, then, is mistaken in supposing that such 
steps will " be for his good/' if they are really bad for him, he is 
not doing " what he wished," and should not be called " powerful." 
(The thought is thus that every one really wishes for good, no one 
wishes for evil. " The object of every man's desire is some good 
to himself." To be really powerful means to be able to get good ; 
it is weakness, not power, to " do whatever you please," if the 
consequence is that you reap evil and not good (4660-4690) .) 

We now pass to the direct enunciation of the main ethical 
doctrine of the dialogue. This is elicited by the unmannerly 
remark of Polus that, whatever Socrates may be pleased to 
profess, he would certainly envy the man who could forfeit, im- 
prison, or kill anyone he pleased. Socrates replies that he would 
not. The man who inflicts such things on another, even when they 
are righteously deserved, is not to be envied ; the man who inflicts 
them undeservedly is miserable and pitiable. What is more, he is 
more pitiable and miserable than the unfortunate innocent victim, 
since to commit injustice is much worse than to have to suffer it. 
Socrates himself would, of course, like Candide in a similar case, 

1 Note that in the course of this argument (at 4680) Socrates talks of things 
" participating " in good and " participating " in evil, using the very word 
(fju-rfaiv ) which appears in connexion with the theory of Forms as technical 
for the relation between the " particular thing " and the " universal " we 
predicate of it. Since it cannot reasonably be doubted that the Gorgias is a 
considerably earlier work than the Phaedo, this creates a grave difficulty for 
those who suppose that the theory is an invention of Plato's own, expounded 
for the first time in 'the Phaedo. 


"choose neither the one nor the other/' but if he had to choose, 
he would much rather suffer the crime than commit it (469^-^). 

Polus treats this view as a ridiculous paradox. He admits 
that any man with a knife under his cloak might claim to be 
" powerful/ 1 in the sense that he can, like the autocrat, kill any 
one he has a mind to kill, but for one thing, the certainty of punish- 
ment. Impunity must be stipulated for as one of the conditions 
of " power/' but a child could refute Socrates' view that it is only 
" better " to kill, banish, and confiscate at will when these acts are 
done " justly." One has only to consider the very latest example 
from contemporary life, that of Archelaus, who has made himself 
king in Macedonia. His whole career has been one of rebellion 
and murder, but he has gained a throne by it. By Socrates' theory 
he ought to be the most wretched of men, but he is, in fact, the 
happiest, and there is not a man in Athens, not even Socrates, who 
would not dearly like to change places with Archelaus (469^-471^). 
An appeal of this kind is, however, an ignoratio elenchi in the most 
literal sense. Even if every one but Socrates would be willing to 
go into the witness-box on behalf of Polus, it is possible that a 
solitary witness may be a witness to truth, and the testimony of 
numbers on the other side erroneous. Socrates will not consider 
his own case as established unless he can produce one solitary 
witness to it, the antagonist himself (472^). In other words, the 
appeal must be to argument and not to authority. The first step 
we must take is to define the issue at stake as precisely as we can. 
It is, in fact, the most important of all practical issues, the solution 
of the question, " Who is the truly happy man ? " Polus maintains 
that a man may be happy but wicked ; Socrates denies this. As 
a corollary, there is a secondary disagreement. Polus holds that 
the wicked man, to be happy, must go unpunished ; Socrates, that 
such a man is in any case unhappy, but more unhappy if he escapes 
punishment than if he suffers it, and he must try to convince Polus 
on both points (472^-474^). 

The precise point of disagreement between the opposing views 
now receives a still more exact definition. Polus is still so far 
under the influence of current moral conventions that he admits 
at once that to commit a wrong is more " ugly " or " disgraceful " 
(aurxiov) than to suffer one, but he declines to draw the further 
inference that the " uglier " thing must also be the greater evil. 
He distinguishes, as Socrates refuses to do, between the good (ayaOov) 
and the " fine " or " noble " (KaXo'i/), and consequently also between 
the " ugly " (cuVxpoV) and the evil (KCIKO'V). The task of Socrates 
is to show that these distinctions are unreal The argument runs 
as follows. When we distinguish between " fine " bodies, coloum 
sounds, callings (cViT^Scv/xara) and others which are " ugly " 
or " base," our standard is always either " benefit " or " pleasure." 
By a " fine " shape or colour or sound, we mean one which is either 
serviceable or immediately agreeable in contemplation or both. 
The same thing holds good when we speak of " fine " or " noble " 


usages (vd/xot) and callings in life, or of the " beauty " of a science. 1 
We mean that the usage or business or science in question either is 
highly beneficial or " creates in the disinterested spectator a pleasing 
sentiment of approbation/' or both, a view which delights Polus 
by its apparent Hedonistic implications. It follows that by calling 
anything " ugly " or " base/' we must mean that it is either dis- 
serviceable, or painful, or both. Also, that when we say " A is 
finer than 5," we must mean that A is either more pleasant or 
more useful than B, or both more pleasant and more useful. And 
when we call A " more ugly " than B, we mean that it is either 
more harmful or more painful, or both. Now we are agreed that 
the commission of wrong (TO d8iKti>) is an " uglier " thing than the 
suffering of it (TO dSiKcicrflcu), and it is certainly not the case that it is 
more painful to commit the crime than to have it committed on 
you. It must follow that the commission of the wrong is the more 
harmful, i.e. the more evil course, the worse course. Now no one 
can rationally prefer an alternative which is at once the worse 
and the more " ugly " of those open to him, and Socrates has thus 
established his main point out of the mouth of his antagonist 
(4740-476^). We come now to the proof of the corollary. 

We begin with a consideration of general logic. Wherever 
there is an agent (TTOLW) there is a correlative " patient " 
(TTtto-x^v), a thing or person which is acted upon. Also the 
modality of the activity gives rise to strictly correlated qualifica- 
tions (rraQrj) in agent and patient. If the agent, e.g., strikes a 
sudden, or a severe, or a painful blow, the patient is suddenly, 
severely, or painfully struck. If the agent " cuts deep/ 1 the patient 
is " deeply cut/' and so forth. Now to be punished for a crime is 
to be the patient in a relation in which the inflictor of the penalty 
is the agent. Hence, if the agent inflicts the penalty deservedly or 
justly, the patient undergoes it deservedly or justly. 2 And, as 
Polus does not deny, what is just is " fine/' and therefore, as we 
have seen, either good or pleasant. Hence the man who is justly 
punished has something good done to him (since no one will suggest 
that he finds the punishment pleasant). He is benefited by what 
is done to him. We may go on to specify the nature of the benefit. 
Goods and evils may be classed under three heads : good or bad 

1 Note that the " induction " is exactly parallel with that of the famous 
speech of Diotima (Symposium, 2ioaff.), when the successive stages in the 
ascent to the contemplation of Beauty are delight in one person's bodily beauty, 
in bodily beauty universally, in beauty of soul and character, beauty of 
occupations and usages (^TiTTjSetf/iara and v6^oi) t beauty of sciences (^rwrT^cu). 
The more carefully the Platonic dialogues down to the Republic are studied, 
the more of a piece we find their teaching to be, and the harder it becomes to 
trace any " development " within them. 

* Observe once more that the logical principle presupposed ners of the 
interconnexion between the modalities of correlates is that which is used in 
the Republic to establish the reality of the distinction between the " parts in 
the soul "( Rep. iv. 4$8b-e). Both passages presuppose the existence of a 
good deal of recognized logical doctrine as early as the time of the Archi- 
damain war. 


conditions of fortune (x/o^ara), of body, of soul. A bad condition 
of fortune is poverty ; of body, weakness, disease, deformity. The 
corresponding bad state of soul is wickedness (dSt/a'a), and admittedly 
wickedness is the " ugliest " of the three. Yet it is certainly not 
more painful to be wicked than to be destitute or physically ill. 
By our preceding reasoning, therefore, it must be very much more 
evil or harmful. Badness of soul is thus the very greatest evil to 
which a man is exposed, and thus we get back to the fundamental 
principle of the whole Socratic ethics (4766-4770) - 1 

One further step remains to be taken. There is an " art " 
which covers each of the three kinds of evil. Business (xprj^ana-TiKri) 
releases us from poverty, medicine from physical disease, " justice " 
administered by a competent judge from wickedness. The judge 
who passes sentence on the criminal is thus a physician of the soul, 
and his calling is a " finer " one than that of the healer of the body, 
because he cures a graver disease. In both cases the process of 
treatment is disagreeable but salutary for us. And again, in both 
cases, the happiest condition is to be in bodily or spiritual health, 
and so not to need the physician. But in both also, the man who 
is cured of a grave disease by a sharp treatment is much less badly 
off than the man who has the disease without receiving the cure. 
Thus a man like Archelaus who lifts himself by successful crime 
above all possibility of correction is like a man with a deadly disease 
who refuses to submit to the surgeon. The claim advanced for 
rhetoric, then, that it enables its possessor to " get off " when he 
is called to account for his misdeeds, is wholly vain. The best use 
a man who has fallen into crime could make of eloquence would be 
to expend it in denouncing himself and ensuring that he shall 
receive from the judge whatever chastisement may be needed to 
restore his soul to health. If eloquence is to be used to enable 
the criminal to " get off " the penalties of his misdeeds, it would be 
appropriate to reserve this employment of it for the case of our 
mortal enemies, as the deadliest injury we can inflict (477^-481^). 

So far we have been concerned simply with an emphatic state- 
ment of the thesis that to do wrong is always worse than to suffer 
it, with the inevitable corollary that it is worse to do wrong with 
impunity than to be punished. With the opening of the third scene 
of Plato's drama we proceed to the application of these moral 
principles to the theory of statesmanship and government. That 
this application is the principal theme of the dialogue is indicated 
both by the fact that this part of the work is longer than both the 
others together, and by the introduction of a new spokesman whose 
case is presented with an unmistakable gusto quite absent from all 
that has gone before. The new speaker is a certain Callicles of 
Acharnae, of whom we learn little more than that he has recently 
begun to aspire to a prominent place in Athenian public life. He is 

1 Note the assumption of the threefold classification of goods as goods of 
soul, body, and "estate/' as something quite familiar (Gorg. 4770 ff.). This 
too, then, is clearly pre-Academic. 


one of the very few characters in Plato's dialogues of whose historical 
reality we have no independent evidence, but it should be clear 
from the very vigour with which his character is drawn that he 
is a genuine man of flesh and blood. His intervention at once 
gives a more realistic touch to the dramatic picture and lifts the 
argument to a distinctly higher level. Polus was not only half- 
hearted in his professed rejection of conventional moral convictions, 
but also wanting in moral seriousness. He had nothing more 
inspiring to say in support of his eulogy of the " tyrant " than that 
it is a pleasant thing to be able to gratify all your passions without 
apprehension of consequences. Clearly, established morality is in 
no danger from the assaults of worldlings of this type, least of all 
when they are mere literary gentlemen talking for talking's sake. 
Callicles is quite another matter. His morality, like Nietzsche's, 
may be an inverted one, but it is one with which he is in downright 
earnest. He has a definite ideal which carries him off his feet, and, 
though it is a false ideal, Plato plainly means to make us feel that 
there is a certain largeness about it which gives it a dangerous 
fascination. To be fascinated by it, indeed, you need to have a 
certain greatness of soul ; it is notable that Callicles himself is 
wholly above the appeal to the mere en joy ability of being able to 
gratify ignoble cupidities, of which Polus had made so much. The 
ideal he is defending is that of the men of action for action's sake, 
the Napoleons and Cromwells, and it is his conviction that there is 
a genuine moral right on which the ideal rests. His imagination 
has been fascinated by the vision of a Nature whose law is that 
" the weakest goes to the wall/ 1 and he sees the life of human 
societies in the light of this vision. He is as earnest as Carlyle in 
his conviction that superior ability of any kind gives the moral 
right to use the ability according to your own judgment and without 
scruples. Hence he feels that in rejecting " conventionalism " in 
morals he is not rejecting morality itself ; he is appealing from a 
petty and confined morality of local human conventions to an 
august morality of " Nature " or " things-as-they-are." The case 
for the partisans of Averts in the fifth-century dispute about <vo-ts 
and VO/AOS could not well be argued more persuasively, and it is 
Plato's purpose that it shall be argued with the maximum of 
persuasiveness with a view to its thorough refutation. 

If Socrates is in earnest and his theory is true, Callicles says, 
the whole of our actual social life is organized on wrong lines ; our 
whole conduct is " topsy-turvy." Socrates does not deny this, but 
replies that he and Callicles are lovers of two very different mis- 
tresses, " philosophy " and the Athenian democracy. Socrates' 
mistress, " philosophy," has taught him to speak her language, and, 
unlike the mistress of Callicles, she always holds the same language. 
It is she, not her lover, whom Callicles will have to refute. 1 Callicles 

1 481^. Here comes in the humorous reference to the mortal " sweetings " 
of Socrates and Callicles respectively, Alcibiades and Demus, son of Pyri- 
lampes. We know from Aristophanes ( Wasps, 98) that Demus was the fashion- 


thinks the task will not be difficult if once we make the distinction 
between mere " convention " and Nature, or " reality." Polus 
had only been silenced because he had not the courage to say 
what he really thought. He deferred to the tradition of the average 
respectable man by saying that it is " uglier " to commit a wrong 
than to suffer one. But this is a mere convention of weaklings, 
set up for their own protection. In " reality " to commit a wrong 
or aggression is not the " ugly " thing ; the " ugly " thing is to have 
it committed on you. It is weaklings, slaves, persons who cannot 
stand up for themselves like men, who have to " put up " wrongs ; 
the strong are aggressive and commit what the conventions of the 
weak call " wrongs." If we look at <u<m, " things-as-they-are," 
we see that the stronger animal regularly pushes the weaker aside. 
Human life displays the same features, if we look at it on the large 
scale. By what right, for example, but that of the stronger did 
Darius attack the Scythians or Xerxes the Greeks ? Their pro- 
ceedings may have been unlawful by the standard of the self- 
interested conventions of the weak, but they had Nature's right 
the right of the strong to impose his will on the weak on their 
side ; indeed, the conqueror is acting in strict accord with " Nature's 
VO/AOS " x in disregarding pur paltry human vofwi. When a really 
strong man in fact, the Ubermensch appears, he will soon tear up 
pur " contracts " and " formulae," and prove himself what he really 
is " by right of nature," the master of us all, as Pindar hinted in his 
well-known eulogy of the piratical feat of Heracles who drove the 
cows of Geryones " without leave asked or price paid." 2 

able beauty at Athens in the year 422. So far the jest makes for giving 
the Gorgias a dramatic date in the Archidamian war. But the supposed 
relations between Socrates and Alcibiades could also be used playfully in the 
Symposium, the assumed date of which is the year 416, so that the argument 
is not conclusive. If Socrates is thinking of the profession of the " Paphla- 
gonian," to the personified Attic Demus in Aristophanes (Knights, 732, 
0tX ff\ & AT?/*.'* ipMTfy T cl/j,l 06$), this would also make for the earlier date. 

1 Gorg. 4830, KCIT& v6fu>v ye rbv 0tfo-ews. The first occurrence, so far as I 
know, in extant literature, of the ominous phrase "law of Nature." Callicles, 
of course, intends the words to be paradoxical "a convention, if you like, 
but Reality's convention, not a human device." 

2 Gorg. 4846. I agree with Wilamowitz that the misquotation by which the 
MSS. made Callicles credit Pindar with saying that vdpos dyct fttaiQv rb SiKaibraTov 
" does violence to the most righteous claim " (whereas the poet wrote SIKCUUV 
r& /Sia^raTov, " makes the most high-handed action just ") comes from Plato 
and should not be " corrected," as it has been by all the editors. (Callicles 
expressly says that he does not know the lines accurately.) But I doubt the 
cogency of the far-reaching inferences, including one as to the date of com- 
position of the dialogue, which Wilamowitz bases on the misquotation. I 
should conjecture that Plato makes it quite deliberately, and that the verses 
had been actually quoted in this form by the champions of 0tf<ns against VO/MOS 
in the fifth century. We must remember that in the time of Socrates there 
were no " official " texts at Athens, even of the Attic dramatists ; still less 
would it be possible to secure the text of a foreign poet against misquotation. 
In the Apologia Socratis of Libanius (fourth century A.D.) Anytus is repre- 
sented as having made a point of this particular misquotation at the trial of 
Socrates. This probably means, as Wilamowitz holds, that the complaint 
occurred in the pamphlet of Polycrates against Socrates, published some 


As for what Socrates has said about the lessons of philosophy, 
philosophy is a graceful accomplishment in a young man, but to 
take it in earnest in mature life is ruin. It unfits a man for the 
life of action, leaves him ignorant of the laws of the community, the 

Erinciples of public and private business, and the real passions of 
is fellow-men, like Amphion in the Antiope of Euripides. One 
should cultivate philosophy up to a certain point, when one is a 
lad, but a grown man should lay it aside with the toys of his boy- 
hood. It is unmanly in a man of ability and ripe years to take 
no part in affairs and sit whispering " with a parcel of lads in a 
corner." l Callicles pushes the point " in a spirit of friendship " ; 
Socrates is a man of admirable natural parts, but his way of life 
has left him at the mercy of anyone who wishes to do him a harm. 
If he were falsely accused on a capital charge, he would be quite 
incapable of making an effective defence more's the pity (4810- 
486^). Socrates professes himself delighted to have such an 
opponent to deal with, a man who is at once " educated," sincere 
(as is shown by the fact that his professed view of the proper place 
of philosophy in man's life is one which Socrates knows him to hold 
in common with several distinguished associates), and perfectly 
frank in speaking his mind without any deference to the conventions. 
If we can convince a man with these qualities of the soundness of 
our view of life, there can be no reasonable doubt of its truth. 
But first we must be quite clear on the point that, in the doctrine 
of Callicles, " better " is a mere synonym of " stronger " and 
" worse " of " weaker." If this is granted, as it is, then, since " the 
many " are stronger than one man, their conventional usages are 
the usages of the stronger, that is to say, of the better, and should 
be regarded as the " naturally fine " (Kara <uViv Ka\d). But their 
convention is just what Callicles has been denouncing, the conven- 
tion that aggression is wrong and that to commit it is " uglier " 
than to suffer it. Thus the antithesis between " nature " and 
" convention " on which Callicles had based his argument is unsound. 
This, says Callicles, is mere catching at a word. He never meant 
by the " stronger " (KPCITTOVS) those who are merely superior in 
muscle and brawn (icrxvporepoi). A canaille of slaves would, at 
that rate, be stronger and better than the " strong man." By 
the "stronger" he really meant "the wiser" (<poi/i/xwTcpoi) , the 
" men of parts." " Natural right " is that " the better and wiser 
should rule and have the advantage over (TrAeW *x* iv ) the worse " 

years after 399 B.C. But the complaint cannot have been based on our pas- 
sage, where it is Callicles, not Socrates, who misquotes. 

1 Gorg. 485^ 7. Plato has sometimes been thought to have fallen here 
into attributing his own way of life in the Academy to Socrates. But (a) it 
is most unlikely that the Academy existed when the Gorgias was written ; 
(6) from Plato's account it appears that most of the conversations of Socrates 
with his young friends were held " in a corner," in places like the gymnasium 
of the Lyceum or the palaestra of Taureas, so that Callicles' language is perfectly 


But what exactly may this mean ? If food and drink are to be 
distributed to a company of men of varying physique, and there is 
just one physician among them, he is certainly the " wisest " in 
matters of diet, and it may be reasonable that he should regulate 
the distribution by his orders ; but is he to get the biggest ration, 
even if he should be the greatest invalid of the party ? Should 
the weaver always have the biggest and finest clothes or the maker 
of shoes the biggest shoes and most of them ? Naturally not ; 
Callicles really means that the " strong " are men with the intel- 
ligence to know how a city may be " well administered," and 
the daring to carry out their designs (ot av ts TO. -rifc TroXcws 

irpdyaara tfrpovifJLoi wart, Svrwa av rpoirov V OIKOLTO, /cat ftr) aovov 
<f>p6vip.oi a\\a KCU avSpcioi, IKQVOI wres a av vo^crwcrtv cTJTreAetv, 49*^)' 
It is right that such men should be sovereign in the State and 
" have the advantage " (TT\OV evctv) of their subjects. 

Should we add that the best men are also sovereigns over them- 
selves in the popular phrase, i.e. can govern their own passions ? 
No ; for in the nature of things the great man is one who has great 
passions and is intelligent and daring enough to secure them full 
gratification. The popular commendation of temperance is a 
mere trick by which the weaklings of the " herd/ 1 who have not 
manhood enough to live the best kind of life themselves, enslave 
their " natural superiors " (4920). If a man is born to a throne, 
or has the manhood to win his way to a throne, it would be base 
and bad in him not to rise above the conventional " temperance " 
and " justice " of the herd, and reap the full benefit of his capacity 
for himself and his friends. In the capable, lawless self-will (rpv^ij 
/cat d/coAacrta /cat \vOcpta, 4<)2c) are virtue and happiness ; regard 
for the " unreal catchwords " (TO, ?rapa <f>vo-iv (TwOy/mara) of the 
vulgar is contemptible. Thus the ideal of Callicles, like that of 
Nietzsche, is the successful cultivation of the Wille zur Macht, and 
his " strong man," like Nietzsche's, is a being of the type of Caesar 
Borgia as conceived in popular legend. 1 

The thesis of Callicles and the moralists of the " will to power " 
then is that one " ought " (del) to have violent desire and gratify 
it to the full ; to " want nothing " is the condition of a stone. But 
perhaps, as Euripides said, what we call life is really death. There 
is a rival view, developed by a certain wise man of Italy, that the 
tale of those who are condemned in the underworld to draw water 
in leaky pitchers is an apologue descriptive of the death-in-life 

1 Cf . Blake, Marriage of Heaven and Hell : " Those who restrain Desire do 
so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained ; and the restrainer or 
Reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling. And being restrained, 
it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of Desire." The 
recently discovered Oxyrhynchus fragments of Socrates' contemporary, 
Antiphon " the sophist," have revealed to us one of the quarters in which 
these conceptions found literary expression in the age of the Archidamian war. 
It is, I believe, of Antiphon among others that Plato is thinking when he 
makes Glaucon declare that this same theory is widely current in his owo 
circle (Rep. ii. 3586). 


of the service of the passions. The leaking pitcher, or sieve, is 
" the part of the soul in which our desires are " ; the more grati- 
fication you give them, the more they crave, and this impossibility 
of ever contenting them shows the intrinsic absurdity of the 
attempt. 1 And it is clear that if one had to fill a number of vessels 
from a few scanty springs, a man who did not care whether his 
vessels were sound or cracked, and who allowed a vessel to run over, 
would have a very difficult task. The man who made sure that 
his pitchers were sound and that none of them ran over would be 
much more successful. Callicles, however, thinks this simile 
misleading. When the vessel has been filled, you can get no more 
enjoyment out of the process of " filling " it ; the enjoyment 
(^80 vri) depends on the continuance of the flow. To get it, you 
must always have room for " more " to flow in (4946). 2 (Callicles 
thus assumes the psycho-physical theory according to which pleasure 
is or accompanies the theory hardly distinguishes these alter- 
natives the " filling-up " or making good of a process of " de- 
pletion " in the organism, pain the process of " depletion " itself. 
The doctrine is familiar to us from Plato's acceptance of it, so far 
as the satisfaction of physical appetites are concerned, in the 
Republic and Philebus, and Aristotle's vigorous polemic against it 
in the Nicomachean Ethics. Plato rejects it, except for these cases, 
and the rejection of it is the basis of the important distinction of the 
Philebus between " pure " or " neat " and " mixed " pleasures. 
It is taught more unreservedly by the Pythagorean Timaeus at 
Tim. 6^a-6^b, and we see from Aristotle's polemic that it was fully 
accepted by Speusippus and the extreme anti-Hedonists of the 
Academy. Its origin is pretty clearly to be found in the medical 
doctrine of Alcmaeon, according to which all disease is disturbance 
of the state of iVovo/xtu ("constitutional balance") between the 
hot, the cold, the moist, and the dry in the organism. The im- 
mediate assumption of Callicles that rjSovrj and ir\rjp<D<ris may 

1 Gorg. 498a-c. Note (i) that, as Burnet says, the allusion to the Italian 
" sage " seems plainly meant for Philolaus or some contemporary Pytha- 
gorean ; (2) that the unexplained mention of " the part of the soul in which 
the iri0vfj.lai are " presupposes the doctrine of the " tripartite soul " more 
fully explained in Rep. iv., which must thus be, as there is much in the 
Republic itself to indicate, of Pythagorean origin, as Posidonius is known to 
have asserted (Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy*, 278, n. 2). It is evidence of 
the same thing that the doctrine is taught also in Plato by the Italian Pytha- 
gorean Timaeus, who cannot be supposed to have learned it from Socrates 
just before delivering his own discourse. (3) The tale of the cracked pitchers 
is not connected by Plato with the Danaids. His version represents it as 
describing the future destiny of the "uninitiated"; this suggests Orphic 

1 Cf. Hobbes, Leviathan, c. xi. : " There is no such Finis ultimus (utmost 
ay me) nor Summum Bonum (greatest Good) as is spoken of in the Books of 
the old Morall Philosophers. Nor can a man any more live, whose Desires 
are at an end, than he, whose Senses and Imaginations are at a stand. . . . 
So that in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a 
perpetual! and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in 


be equated shows us that this doctrine was a commonplace in culti- 
vated circles of the age of Socrates.) 

Obviously, if happiness depends on such a process of unending 
" filling-up," it demands a similarly unending process of " depletion/' 
If water is always to be running into the pitcher, it must also be 
always running out at the cracks. Would it then be intense happi- 
ness to have a continual itch, provided one could go on endlessly 
getting the gratification of chafing the itching place ? You must 
admit this if you mean to be serious with the theory. 1 What is 
more, the life of a catamite must be eminently happy, if he can only 
get a perpetual series of satisfactions for his unnatural prurigo. For 
all his " freedom from convention/' Callicles objects to this par- 
ticular " transvaluation of values/' but you cannot avoid it so 
long as you persist in identifying good with pleasant. To condemn 
any kind of gratification, you must distinguish good from pleasant, 
and this Callicles admits he cannot consistently do (4950). 

We proceed next to consider the identification of good and bad 
with pleasure and pain on its merits. Two difficulties occur to us 
at the very outset, (a) Good and bad are " contraries " ; you 
cannot predicate both at once of the same subject, nor can you 
deny both at once. A man cannot have both predicates at once, nor 
" get rid " of both at once. Pleasure and pain are not opposed in 
this way. E.g., when a hungry man is satisfying his hunger by a 
square meal, he feels at once the pleasure of appeasing the hunger 
and the painfulness of the still unappeased hunger which urges 
him to eat more. When his hunger is sated and he leaves off, the 
pleasure and the pain are both at an end. But it is just at this 
point, where both the pleasure and the pain are over, that the man 
reaches the good to which eating ministers, the restoration of normal 
equilibrium in his organism. 2 (b) Callicles himself makes a dis 
tinction between " good " men and " bad " ones, the " good/ 1 
according to him, being the intelligent and bold, the " bad " the 
silly or timorous. He must hold, therefore, that good is " present 
to " 8 the former and not to the latter. But he cannot deny that 
fools and cowards feel pleasure and pain at least as keenly as the 

1 Dante, it may be remembered, regards such a life as a torment for the 
damned, and the worst of the damned (Inferno, xiv. 40, xv. 131, xxix. 76 ff.). 

* The presupposed doctrine is that explained at length in the Philebus, 
that the satisfactions of appetite attend on the process (ytvcerts) by which 
a " depletion " of the organism is made good. Thus they are (a) preceded 
by a painful consciousness of " want" (ft/Seta), and (6) are not, even while 
they last, wholly pleasurable. Their piquancy and intensely exciting char- 
acter depends on the tension between satisfied want and the persistence of 
still unsatisfied want. This is why these pleasures are " mixed," not " neat " 

3 Gorg. 4970, " We call good men good in virtue of the presence of good 
things " to them (ayaO&v vapowtq.} . irapovvia has here precisely the sense 
it bears when used in connexion with the forms in the Phaedo. The predicate 
" good " is predicable of a certain man because he " has " goodness of some 
kind or other, is " possessed of " good. On a Hedonist theory this means that 
" X is good " always implies " X is enjoying pleasure," and it is this implica- 
tion Socrates is calling in question. 


intelligent and daring, if not more keenly, since cowards, for example, 
seem to feel more distress in the face or the enemy and more delight 
at their disappearance than brave men do. Thus there are empirical 
objections to the identification of pleasure with good (4950-4996). 

Callicles extricates himself for the moment in the only way 
possible to a Hedonist in a " fix/' Like Mill, he declares it obvious 
that " pleasures differ in quality" ; there are better pleasures and 
worse pleasures, and it is unfair in Socrates, as Mill said it was in 
his opponents, to neglect the distinction. For example, a pleasure 
which contributes to bodily health is good, one which is detri- 
mental to health is bad, and the same thing is true of pains. The 
rule for choice is that we should choose the good pleasures and pains 
and avoid the bad ones. In fact, Callicles is prepared to admit now 
that pleasure is a means to good (5000). But the right selection 
of pleasures will demand a " competent expert " ; not every one 
can be trusted to make it. 

We are thus brought face to face with the final problem raised 
by our dialogue. Socrates and Callicles stand respectively for two 
antithetical ideals in life, the one for the " life of philosophy," the 
other for the " life of action " as followed by a man of affairs in the 
Athenian democracy. The choice between these competing ideals 
is the ultimate practical problem, and it is this issue which is to be 
decided by the " competent judge." The distinction we have been 
forced to make between the pleasant and the good shows that the 
qualifications of the competent judge must not be based (as Mill 
tries to base them) on an empirical acquaintance with the flavours 
of pleasure (a thing of which the empiric understands neither the 
character nor the cause, 5oi#), but on a true r^xvrj, which knows 
about the good of the soul as medicine does about the good of the 
body ; in fact, Socrates means, moral science is to prescribe the 
soul's regimen as medicine prescribes the regimen of the body 

Now there is certainly one class of " rhetoricians," i.e. practi- 
tioners of the use of language to work on men's feelings and 
imaginations, who are empirics of the type of the confectioner, 
namely, the poets. Their standard is always simply the " taste " 
of their public. They aim at pleasing this taste, and incidentally 
gaining their own advantage by doing so, without troubling them- 
selves in the least whether their productions will make any one a 
better man. And what is poetry, when you divest it of the addition 
of tune, rhythm, and metre, but rhetoric the effective use of 
language ? Has the rhetoric of an Athenian politician any saner 
basis ? Does the politician aim at the improvement of his public, 
or merely at gratifying their moods (501^-5020) ? a 

1 Thus Socrates disposes in advance of Mill's preposterous appeal to a 
jury of pleasure-tasters devoid of all ethical preferences. From his point 
of view, to consult judges with such a " qualification " about pleasures 
would be like selecting medicines by the agreeableness of their tastes. 

1 The whole indictment of poetry in the Republic is contained in principle 
in what is said here about its character as a " mere mechanic " trick of pleasing 


Callicles thinks that, though the suggestion of Socrates may be 
true about some statesmen, there are others who really are guided 
by regard for the good of their fellow-citizens. He could not say 
so much for any living man of affairs, but it is true of the great 
men of the past, from Themistocles to the recently dead Pericles. 
They did make Athenians " better " by their careers. Socrates 
will not admit this. Themistocles and the rest made Athens great, 
if it is greatness to gratify all your cravings and passions, good and 
bad alike. But the scientific practitioner in any department must 
have an ideal before him into accord with which he sets himself to 
bring the material on which he works, as, e.g., the physician has an 
ideal standard of health which he tries to reproduce in his patients. 
Has there ever been a statesman in Athens who, in the same way, 
has had an ideal of character, " goodness of soul," and set himself 
to promote it in the citizens ? The physician, unlike his counterfeit 
the confectioner, aims at producing in a human body a definite 
14 order and regulation " (rafts K<U KOO-/XOS) ; the statesman, if he 
is more than a mere unprincipled empiric, should aim at doing the 
same thing for the human soul. This is to say that his purpose 
should be to produce " temperance and justice " (o-ox^poo-vvT/ *ca! 
&iKaio<ruvrj) in the souls of his public. The object of a statesman 
and orator secundum art em is the production of national character. 
If the cTTiflv/buai of the citizens, the " national " aspirations and 
ambitions, are unhealthy and evil, the public man who is not a mere 
" toady " will aim at repressing them, and so making the national 
soul " better " by " chastisement " (5056-0). 

Callicles is so disgusted with this return of the argument to the 
apparent paradox which had led to his intervention in the dis- 
cussion, that Socrates is left to act as respondent to his own ques- 
tions as he draws to his formal conclusion. Good is not the same 
thing as pleasure ; it depends universally on " order and Tightness 
and art" and shows itself in a condition of " regulation and orderli- 
ness/ 1 This means that the temperate or " disciplined " soul is 
the good soul, the " unchastened " (dKoAao-ros), " undisciplined" 
soul is bad. The former acts " appropriately to the situation " 
in all the situations of life, and consequently acts well, does well, 
and is " happy " ; the latter, not meeting the situations of life with 
the appropriate responses, is not merely bad but unhappy, especially 
if it is not held in check by " chastisement." These are the 
principles on which public no less than private conduct should be 
organized ; the life of the " superman " or of the " superstate " 
is simply that of a bandit, and a bandit has the hand of gods and 
men against him. He does not know how to " communicate " or 
" go shares " (Koivwclv) , but all social life depends on " communica- 
and amusing. That poets aim merely at pleasing the taste of an audience, 
good or bad, was a current view. Herodotus uses it (ii. 116) to explain why 
Homer adopted a " false version " of the story of Helen, Euripides (H.F. 
1341-6) to discredit the whole poetical mythology. In the flurcroi \6-yoi it 
occurs more than once as an objection to the appeal to poets on questions of 
morality that their standard is dfovd, 


tion." Indeed the " wise " (the Pythagorean men of science) say 
that " communication " or " reciprocity " (KOWWIO.) is the basis 
not only of all human affections and moral virtues, but of the whole 
physical order of heaven and earth. " Geometrical equality " is 
the great law of the universe (5080), x and this is why the " wise " 
call the universe KOO^OS, " the order of things." In setting up 
TrAcop^ta, " going beyond the limit," as a principle for life, Callicles 
has forgotten his geometry. But if these convictions are sound, 
we must also admit Socrates' paradox that the best use an offender 
can make of rhetoric is to ensure his own conviction. Callicles was 
right in saying that Socrates' rule of life left him at the mercy 
of an aggressor, but wrong in thinking the position " ugly." 
The " ugliness " is not in the suffering but in the perpetrating of 
aggression. To escape this conclusion you must show that the 
principle that " wickedness is the greatest of evils to its possessor " 
is false (5090). 

To commit wrong, then, is the worst evil which can befall a man ; 
to have to submit to it, though a lesser evil, is also an evil. In 
neither case will the mere purpose to avoid the evil avail of itself 
to secure its end. To avoid being wronged you also need " power " 
or " strength." And, since we long ago agreed on the principle 
that wrong-doing is " involuntary," a consequence of error, you 
need to secure yourself against it by acquiring some " power 
or TC'XVT/, organized knowledge" (5100). 2 If you want to avoid 
being wronged, you must either DC an " autocrat " or a friend of 
the sovereign body, whatever it may be (ercupos TIJS vTrapxovVijs 
TroAiTa'as, 5100). In an autocracy this means that you must be 
a " creature " of the autocrat ; in a democracy, like Athens, you 
must make yourself a favourite with your " master " the populace, 
and conform yourself to its moods and prejudices. In neither 
case have you secured yourself against the greater evil of committing 
wrong. On the contrary, to be a favourite with either autocrat 
or populace you must sink to their moral level and sympathize 
with their injustices. Callicles thinks this only sensible, for the 
" leviathan " will kill you if you do not humour it. But this plea 
rests on the assumption that life at any cost and on any terms is 
supremely desirable, even at the cost of moral corruption. It 
amounts to basing the high claims made for rhetoric on the view that 
rhetoric is an art of saving your skin. No doubt it is ; the politician 
is constantly saving his skin by his plausible speech. But swimming 

} ycwptTpucri, i.e. proportion, " equality of ratio." It is called 
so, in contradistinction to " arithmetical " or absolute " equality," because 
of the part it plays in the geometry of " similar " figures. The " wise " 
meant are the Pythagoreans who were the discoverers of the various elemen- 
tary " progressions," or, as the Greeks called them, dvaXoylai, " proportions," 
and gave the name K<S<T/AOJ to what had before them been called ofyav6s. 
For the thought we might compare Kant's insistence on the principle of 
Gemeinschaft and reciprocal interconnexion in nature. 

1 Cf. Ep. vi, 322^, where Plato recommends Erastus and Coriscus to the 
" protection " of Hermias on much the grounds here spoken oi. 


and seamanship save your skin too, and are not thought of supreme 
moment for a gentleman's education. An ordinary skipper will 
bring you, your family, and all your belongings safe from Egypt 
or the Pontus, but he asks a very modest fare, and his calling is 
thought a very humble one. And this is as it should be, for the 
skipper has really done a man who is hopelessly diseased in body 
or soul no real service ; it would be better for such a man to 
go to the bottom (5110-5126). So an ordinary engineer may save 
the lives of a whole community by the machines he builds, but a 
man like Callicles regards the engineer as a " base mechanic " 
and would not dream of intermarriage with his family. If mere 
life is the highest good, why should not all these " mechanics " 
advance the same claims which are put forward on behalf of 
rhetoric ($i2c-d) ? The truth is that the important thing is not 
to live long, but to live well ; is a man likely, or is he not, to attain 
that end by conforming himself to the spirit and temper of the 
community, e.g. of the Athenian 8171*09, as he must do if he means 
to be a " public man " (5120-5 130) ? 

" Impressive, but not convincing/' is the verdict of Callicles 
on all this. Convincing or not, however, it is plain that if we aim 
at a statesmanship which is more than successful " parasitism " l 
(fcoAaiceta), a statesmanship which is a genuine art of " tendance of 
our fellow-citizens/ 1 our chief problem will be to promote national 
character ; it is no true service of the State to increase its wealth 
or power, unless its citizens are fitted by their character to use 
wealth or wield power 2 (5140). On the hypothesis, then, our 
fitness for the statesman's calling depends on our possession of a 
science (cTno-Tr//^) , in fact, on our knowledge of moral values. Now 
an expert can establish his claim to be an expert in two ways : (a) by 
pointing out the master from whom he has learned his knowledge, (b) 
by pointing to the results in which his knowledge has been em- 
bodied. If a man can satisfy neither of these tests, we cannot take 
his claims to be an expert seriously. No one would give an appoint- 

1 We might perhaps use a biological analogy to bring out better the full 
meaning of the distinction between the *6\a and the genuine " craftsman " 
which runs all through the dialogue. The ic6\a or " trencherman " of 
social life lives, and lives, according to the vulgar estimate, well by living on 
his patron (whom he really depraves by "pandering" to his vices), exactly 
as the parasitical organism fattens itself on the tissues of its unfortunate 
" host." So the empiric in statesmanship, the " opportunist," makes a 
"good thing" for himself of depraving the national character and lowering 
the national ideals. The best comment on the view Socrates takes of the 
influence of the " orators " on national life is the humorous caricature of the 
same thing in the scene of Aristophanes (Knights, 725 ff.) where the sausage- 
seller and the Paphlagonian bid against each other for the lucrative post of 
pimp-in-chief to Demus. Aristophanes and Socrates agree in their estimate 
of the vvv iro\iTiKot. 

2 Cf. the lesson, e.g., of the Euthydemus that wealth and power are good or 
bad according as the " soul " which is to use them is good or bad. Note that 
there is once more a tacit allusion to the apologue of the " three lives." 
" Wealth " and " power " are the ends of the " body-loving " and " distinc- 
tion-loving " lives respectively, ^irurr^i} the end of the " philosophic " life. 


ment as a public physician to a candidate who could not prove 
that he had effected any cures as a private practitioner. So an 
aspirant to statesmanship may fairly be expected to satisfy us 
that he has " in private practice " made the souls or characters 
of his fellow-men better. How do the famous public men of Athens, 
from Miltiades to Pericles, stand this test (515^) ? It is Socrates' 
conviction that one and all fail under it. Pericles, as every one is 
saying, made the Athenians worse, not better ; he made them 
" idle, cowardly, talkative, and greedy " (5150). The best proof 
of this is the notorious fact that at the end of his career, they actually 
turned on him and found him guilty of embezzlement. 1 The con- 
viction was, to be sure, iniquitous, but whose "tendance " of the 
animal civis Atticus had taught it these iniquitous ways ? The 
" tendance " of Pericles himself ($i6a-d). He made the animal 
" wilder," and this disposes of his claim to be a statesman. The 
same is true of Cimon and Miltiades : the very wrongs they ended 
by suffering from the 8^05 prove that they too had made their 
" cattle " worse by their treatment (516^-^). 2 None of these 
famous men was even skilled in the spurious " parasitic " kind of 
rhetoric for each of them ended by displeasing the common 
patron (517*). 

You may say that, after all, these must have been great men, 
for their " public works " (e.g. the creation of the Athenian navy, 
the building of the walls, docks, and the like) speak for them. And 
this really proves that they were, so to say, good " domestics " or 
" personal servants " of Demus ; they knew how to provide their 
master with the things he desired. But what they did not know 
and true statesmanship consists in knowing just this was how to 
get him to desire what is really good (5i7&). 3 To call them states- 
men is like calling a confectioner or a fancy baker a specialist in 
hygiene and medicine ; it is to compare a subordinate "art," 
which makes things, with the master-art which " uses " them 
aright (517^-5180). If a man made that confusion, his cooks and 
confectioners would soon ruin his constitution, and he would lay 
the blame for his want of wholesome appetite on the inferiority of 
his present cook as compared with his old one. Callicles is making 

1 5150, ravrl y&p tywye d:oi/a; KT\. Socrates means that this is the verdict 
to be heard on all sides now that Pericles is dead and his dominance is at an 
end. He would " hear " this, of course, from many quarters. It is, e.g., the 
view of Aristophanes and apparently of the contemporary comic dramatists 
generally. The statement that Pericles had made Athenians " lazy and 
greedy " dt& rrjv tuff0o$oplai> refers, of course, to his establishment of the 
dicasts' fjuvOfa. The picture of Philocleon and his friends in the Wasps is 
an admirable illustration of the point. 

* Socrates would have the Old Comedy on his side in what he says about 
Pericles ; the point about Miltiades and Cimon is made to show that the heroes 
of Aristophanes and the anti-Pericleans are in the same condemnation. 

8 5 l 5t, ovd' 4y& \f/{y<*) TOVTOVS ws yc dia.K6vov? elvai 7r6\eo>s. Pericles and the rest 
have no claim to be " physicians of the commonwealth," but they were com- 
petent purveyors, major-domos, and butlers. So much Socrates will concede, 
but no more. 


precisely the same blunder. The real authors of the disorders of 
the " body politic " were the " statesmen " of the past who ruined 
the constitution of the public by filling it with " harbours and docks 
and such stuff, without justice and temperance.' 1 When the 
" cold fit " of the disorder arrives, the sufferer will lay the blame 
for his disorder on Alcibiades, or perhaps Callicles himself, who are 
at worst only minor contributors to the mischief. 1 When the public 
turns and rends one of its leaders in this fashion, he usually com- 
plains of its injustice. But the complaint is as ludicrous as that of 
the sophists who profess to teach their pupils " goodness/' and then 
accuse them of cheating them of their fees. The very complaint 
shows that neither sophist nor politician can do what he professes 
to do ; the one cannot make his pupils " good," the other cannot 
promote the real good of the " people " (5176-5200). Of the two 
pretenders, there is a certain advantage on the side of the sophist. 
The art he caricatures, that of the legislator, is a nobler thing than 
the art of the judge, as that of the physical trainer who keeps the 
body fit is nobler than that of the physician who banishes disease. 
If either pretender really believed in himself, he would exercise 
his calling gratis ; a man who can make an individual or a people 
" good " has no need to take precautions against ungrateful or 
unfair treatment (^2oc-e). 2 

What, then, did Callicles mean when he recommended Socrates 
to take up " public life " ? Did he mean that Socrates should be a 
physician to the public or merely a " toady " and " body-servant " ? 
The truth is that Socrates himself is the only real statesman of his 
time, for he is the only Athenian who aims in his use of speech not 
at giving pleasure but at doing real good to those with whom he 
speaks. He may very possibly be dragged into court as a " corrupter 
of youth/' and if that should happen, his condemnation is certain, 
for he would be the physician pleading against the confectioner 
before a jury of children of whom he had already spoken. 3 But he 
would die innocent of offence, and the dreadful thing is not to die, 
but to enter the unseen world with a soul laden with guilt (5210- 

1 This allusion to a possible turning of the STJ/AOS against Alcibiades seems 
to make it clear that the supposed date of the conversation must at any rate 
be well before the event which fulfilled the prophecy the scandal about the 
" profanation of the mysteries " in 415. Observe the contempt expressed 
by Callicles at 5200 for the professional " teachers of goodness." This is 
strictly in keeping with his theories about the superman, since no one can 
teach you to be a superman ; you have to be born one. 

2 Is this an allusion to the anecdote told by later writers about Protagoras 
and his defaulting pupil ? Or, more probably, is not the story to which 
Plato alludes a contemporary jest into which the name of Protagoras was 
worked before the time of Aristotle ? 

8 We might at first be surprised to find Socrates at what seems to be an 
early stage in his career contemplating the possibility of prosecution for 
"corrupting the young." But we should compare Apoloey 9 i86ff., where 
Socrates insists that the prejudice against him and his influence goes back 
to the old caricatures of the comic poets, who charged him with useless 
speculations and " making the worse argument appear the better." 


The argument of the dialogue is now complete. We reach the 
climax of the Socratic ethics of the " tendance of the soul " with 
the declarations that statesmanship is nothing but the practice 
of this same " art " on the large scale, that its indispensable basis 
is knowledge of moral values, and that the apparent " mugwump " 
Socrates is in fact the one man of his age and city who is leading the 
real " active life," because he has himself, and tries to communicate 
to every one else, a moral faith and moral ideals. He alone, in a 
world of " opportunist " careerists, is doing work which will last, 
because he alone is building on a rock. What makes the Gorgias 
so important in spite of its longueurs, is that, more fully than any 
other dialogue, and with an intenser ?ra0o?, it works oat the applica- 
tion of the conception of " tendance of the soul " to the whole 
complicated business of life. Formally, the conversation is pro- 
longed for a few pages, to give Socrates the opportunity to drive 
home the exceeding horror of sin by an imaginative myth of judg- 
ment after death, the earliest in order of composition of Plato's 
masterpieces in this kind. The basis of the story, in this case, 
seems more strictly Orphic and less Pythagorean than in the com- 
panion pictures of the Republic and Phaedo. The scenery, " the 
meadow where the three ways meet," x the judges before whom 
the dead appear, the original division of the universe into heaven, 
earth, and the underworld, used as the motif for the tale, are all 
familiar to us as features of the Orphic mythology. On the other 
hand, nothing is said of the Pythagorean reincarnation which plays 
so prominent a part in the eschatology of the Republic, Phaedo, and 
Phaedms. This presumably means that that doctrine is no part of 
the serious convictions of Socrates or Plato, and this may be why 
Socrates expressly says at 5246 that he accepts the present account 
of the judgment as true, without any warning, such as he gives 
in the Phaedo, against pressing its details. 

The main thought of the myth is the impossibility of escaping 
the scrutiny of the eye of the divine judge. In the old days, men 
were judged while still in the body, and the stains and sores of the 
soul often escaped notice, especially when the party to be judged 
was a great man, who appeared with all the splendours of external 
pomp and circumstance. To prevent such mistakes, the judgment 
has now been placed after death, that the soul may appear at the 
tribunal naked, without the " tunic " of the body. This ensures 
that its destiny shall be decided by its worth, not by the station it 
has held on earth. We shall find Plato preaching the same doctrine 
of a divine judgment which neglects nothing and can make no 

1 The three ways are the roads which lead (a) from earth to " the meadow," 
(6) from the meadow to heaven, (c] from the meadow to hell. As usual, hell 
is depicted in the main as a purgatory for the not wholly depraved. A few 
incurables are detained there permanently as a warning to others, but these 
are chiefly " supermen " of the Napoleonic type. Ordinary human weakness 
is regarded as curable." Not all "statesmen " take the road to destruction. 
Aristides " the just " is instanced as an example of a man who filled high 
office nobly and went " straight to heaven " (5266). 


error, in the tenth book of the Laws, without any mythology at all. 
In the Gorgias, the point to notice is the tone of earnestness with 
which Socrates is made to profess the doctrine as his own personal 
faith. This representation is quite incompatible with the singular 
view that " the historic Socrates " was an agnostic on the problem 
of immortality. If Plato misrepresented his master in the matter, 
the misrepresentation did not begin with the Phaedo. He must 
have ended the Gorgias with a deliberate mystification. 1 

The Meno. There are points of contact between the Meno and 
the Gorgias which make it convenient to consider them together, 
though the main purpose of the Meno connects it rather with two 
more mature dialogues, the Phaedo and the Protagoras, as well as 
with the Apology. The dramatic setting of the dialogue is of the 
simplest. It is a conversation between Socrates and the young 
Thessalian Meno, who is attended by at least one slave, broken by 
an interlude which brings on the scene the prominent politician 
Anytus, afterwards the instigator of the proceedings against 
Socrates. Where the conversation takes place we are not told, 
except that it is, of course, somewhere in Athens. The dramatic 
date can be readily fixed by reference to the facts about Meno 
recorded in Xenophon's Anabasis. Meno joined the expedition 
of Cyrus the younger against his brother Artaxerxes II at Colossae 
in the middle of March 401 B.C. (Anab. i. 2, 6), rendered the im- 
portant service of being the first of the Greek adventurers to declare 
for Cyrus openly when the army had reached the Euphrates and 
its real objective became clear (ibid. i. 4, 13), and was present with 

1 I may here append a very brief statement about the conclusion which 
seems to me safest on the question of the dramatic date of the dialogue. As 
I have said, 1 think the tone of the reference to a possible revulsion of feeling 
against Alcibiades excludes any date later than about 416. The main 
difficulty to set against this conclusion is the free use made by both Callicles 
and Socrates of the Antiope of Euripides, which is assumed to be a familiar 
and popular work. The scholiast on Aristophanes' Frogs 53 refers to the play 
as " recently produced " at the time of production of the Frogs (405 B.C.), and 
implies that it was a later work than the Andromeda (produced in 412 along 
with the Helena, both of which are burlesqued by Aristophanes in the Thesmo- 
phoriazusae, a play of the year 411). Unless Plato has forgotten the real 
date of a play of which he probably saw the first performance, there must be 
some error in the scholiast's reckoning. The references to the actual state of 
affairs throughout the dialogue suggest that Pericles has not yet found a 
successor recognized as such by admirers like Callicles. The picture of the 
power actually wielded by the " orators " seems to me so completely in 
keeping with the tone of Aristophanes' Knights and Wasps, that I would 
suggest that the most suitable date is during the career of Cleon, somewhere 
about 424-422, or at most a little later. As the demagogues had been able 
to disgrace Pericles at the end of his life, 427 would be a possible date, but I 
think rather less likely. We need not suppose that Gorgias is in Athens for 
the first time, or that he only came there once. Andron, the best known of 
the associates of Callicles, is specially connected for us with the events of 
411-410 ; he had been a member of the " four hundred," but, like Critias, 
took a prominent part in the overthrow of that body, being the proposer of 
the psephism which " attainted " its leading spirit, the orator Antiphon. 
But in the Gorgias, no doubt, we are to think of him as, like Callicles, only 
just beginning his career. 


the others at the battle of Cunaxa. The rivalry between Clearchus 
and Meno, after the battle, led directly to the capture of the prin- 
cipal Greek leaders by Tissaphcrnes and the death of Clearchus 
(ibid. ii. 5, 27 ff.). Meno, with the rest, was sent a prisoner to the 
Persian court, where he was executed after a year's confinement 
(ibid. ii. 6, 29). Xenophon, who was a fervid admirer of the stupid 
and brutal Clearchus, gives Meno the worst of characters. One 
may discount a great deal of this, but the general impression that 
the man was a spoilt and petulant boy, only half civilized, is borne 
out by Plato's dialogue. Xenophon does not mention Meno's age 
at death, but implies that he was still a mere lad (crt u>/><uos, he says) 
when he was put in charge of the 1500 men he brought to the 
expedition. Hence we shall hardly be far wrong if we suppose his 
presence in Athens to be connected with the forthcoming enterprise. 
This means that we must date it not long before his arrival in 
Colossae. We must thus think of Socrates as an old man, within 
two or three years of seventy, and of the conversation as taking 
place after the restoration of the democracy in 403, when Anytus 
was one of the two or three most powerful and respected public men. 
The Meno then, anlike any of the dialogues we have so far con- 
sidered, is dated at a time which would be compatible with sup- 
posing Plato to have been actually present at the conversation 
and to be describing it from his own recollections. 1 The dialogue 
opens with an abruptness hardly to be paralleled elsewhere in the 
genuine work of Plato by the direct propounding of a theme for 
discussion ; there are not even the ordinary formalities of salutation. 
May we argue that this indicates that its composition belongs to 
the very earliest years of Plato's literary activity ? This would be 
an important consideration, since, as no one denies, the whole 
characteristic metaphysics of the Phaedo, the theory of forms and 
the doctrine of " reminiscence/' are explicitly taught in the Meno. 
In any case there ought to be no doubt that the Meno is a cruder 
and earlier work than either of the two great dramatic dialogues 
with which it is most intimately connected, the Phaedo and the 
Protagoras, and this of itself would be enough to prove that the 
Phaedo is not, as has been supposed, a first publication of an im- 
portant philosophical discovery. 

The question raised by .Meno (700) is one directly suggested 
by the activity of Protagoras and the other " teachers of goodness " 
Can " goodness " be taught, or, if not, can it be acquired 

1 The only other " Socratic " discourses for which this would be possible, 
so far as I can see, are the Apology (where Plato mentions his own presence). 
Theaetetus and Euthyphro, (?) Philebus. It would consequently be possible 
for the Sophistes and Politicus also, though the fiction by which the Theaetetus, 
with which these dialogues are especially connected, is represented as read 
from notes made by Euclides is probably intended to suggest that Plato is 
not a Kw<f>&v vptowTrov in these discourses. These facts suggest that, except 
in the case of the Apology, Plato means us to think of himself as absent even 
in the one or two instances when he might, so far as date goes, have been 
present : his intention is to suppress his own personality altogether. 


by " practice " is it do-K^roV ? If it can be acquired neither by 
instruction nor by practice, is it " naturally " inborn, or how do 
we come by it ? This is just the point at issue between the 
champions of vd/xos and the partisans of <vW in the time of 
Socrates. (For the Socratic answer to the problem we need to go 
partly to the Protagoras, still more to the elaborate account of the 
training proposed for the " auxiliaries " and the " philosopher 
kings " of the Republic. Plato's own final position has to be learned 
from the educational sections of the Laws. At present it will be 
enough simply to state summarily the results reached in the Re- 
public. There is no formal discussion of the problem in the dialogue, 
but the solution of it is given implicitly in the educational pro- 
gramme laid down in the course of books iii.-vii. Socrates' solution 
there depends on a distinguo. There are two distinct levels of 
" goodness/' one which will be sufficient for the ordinary good 
citizen and even for the " auxiliaries/' the executive force of society, 
and a higher, indispensable to the statesmen who have to direct 
the whole of the national life and determine its standard. For those 
whose business in life is to obey rules based on the ideals of the true 
statesman, all that is necessary is a discipline in absolute loyalty 
to the traditions in which the ideals are embodied, and this dis- 
cipline is secured by the moulding of temper, taste, and imagina- 
tions described in Republic iii.-iv. Such an education, however, does 
not result in personal insight, but at best in loyalty to a noble rule 
of life taken on trust. The " goodness " of the classes who are 
" under authority " is thus not ^aOrjrov but dovo/ToV, a result 
not of enlightenment but of discipline. But in the statesman who 
has to create the national tradition, something more is needed. 
He must know, as a matter of personal insight, what the true moral 
" values " are. The statesman is therefore required to possess a 
" philosophic " goodness, based on direct personal insight into the 
structure of the universe and man's place in that structure. Such 
insight can only be won by the mind which has been trained in 
arduous scientific thinking for itself, and is therefore " knowledge," 
and, like all knowledge, comes by "teaching"; but this teaching 
is no mere communication of " results." A man is not made a 
thinker of the first order by any imparting of " information," but 
by stimulating in him the power and the ambition to think for 
himself. This is why the one effective method of teaching in philo- 
sophy and science is the association of an older and a younger mind 
in the prosecution of an " original research.") 

To return to the Meno. Meno's question, flung out in an airy 
way as though it could be disposed of in a sentence, cannot really 
be answered without facing one still more fundamental. We cannot 
expect to know how " goodness " is produced until we know what 
it is. And this is more than anyone at Athens, and most of all 
Socrates, professes to know. We are thus brought back to the 
problem of definition which has met us already in other dialogues 
(jic-d). According to Meno, this problem is no real problem at 


all. Gorgias could have told Socrates what goodness is, or, if 
Socrates has forgotten what Gorgias has to say, Meno, whose 
admirer Aristippus had been a patron of Gorgias, can remind him. 
There are a variety of " goodnesses " (dperai). The goodness of a 
man is to have capacity for public affairs, to be a valuable ally and 
a dangerous enemy, and to know how to hold his own ; that of a 
woman is to look after " the home " and to obey her husband ; and 
there are yet other goodnesses appropriate to a child, an elderly 
man, a slave, and so forth. In fact, every age of life and every 
social station has its own peculiar goodness (720). (Thus we have 
once more the confusion of definition with enumeration.) These 
commonplaces, however, do not answer our question. We want 
to know what the oucr/a, or essentia of " goodness " is, and this 
must be something in respect of which the " goodnesses " of male and 
female, old and young, bond and free, do not differ, a " single 
identical pattern " (cv ci^os, 720), in virtue of which the common 
name apcrr/ is bestowed. 1 Consider the analogy of health or 
strength. One might say, as Meno has done, that there is " health 
in a man " and " health in a woman," " manly strength " and 
" womanly strength/' and that they have their differences. And 
Meno himself must admit that " in respect of being health " or 
" in respect of being strength " masculine health and strength 
do not differ from feminine. 2 There is a single " pattern " of 
health (cV Travraxotf cTSo?) in all healthy beings, and similarly 
with strength. So, since we can speak of a good man and of a good 
woman, there must be some one " pattern " of goodness in man 
and woman, young and old. (In the language of to-day, " good- 
ness " must be a determinable, of which the " goodness of a man/ 1 
the " goodness of a woman/' and the rest are the determinants.) 
We may note that this position, which arises at once from the 
application of the theory of forms to human conduct, is of first- 

1 The " something which is the same in all cases " and justifies the use of a 
common name is successively spoken of as ova-La (what the thing is, its 
quid) (726), as a single eTSos, pattern (720, d, e), as something which " pervades " 
all the cases, 5tA tr^vrtav &rr/j> (740), is the same " over them all," M iraa-i raMr 
(750). All these are names for the objective reality indicated by the employ- 
ment of a common predicate of many subjects, and the abundance of them 
presupposes the existence of an already rather elaborate logical doctrine 
founded on the metaphysics of forms. Linguistically, ovvia is the most 
interesting of them, since in this sense it is a loan-word from Ionic science ; 
the only familiar meaning in the Attic of the fifth century was the legal one, 
"estate," "property, personal or real." On the probability that the philo- 
sophical meaning of the word comes from the Pythagoreans, see Burnet's note 
on Euthyphro, loa 7. As to e?5os, criticism has not shaken my conviction 
that its philosophical use is a development from its source in Pythagorean 
mathematics "regular figure." 

2 That in a sense there is male health and female health is clear from the 
simple fact that there are professors of and treatises on gynaecology. But 
the eI5os of health, namely, that it is "equilibrium in the constituents of the 
organism," holds good for both sexes. 'Ihe thesis that the " goodness " of a 
woman is the same as that of a man was ascribed to Socrates also by Aeschines 
in his Aspasia, and is thus a genuine tenet of the Socratic ethics (cf. Burnet, 
art. SOCRATBS, in Encyclopaedia oj Religion and Ethics, xi. 667). 


rate importance for both logic and ethics. In logic it means that 
there is no third alternative between realism and nominalism. A 
universal, unambiguously employed, signifies something or it does 
not. If it signifies anything, that something is not an arbitrary 
fiction of my mind ; if it signifies nothing, there is an end of all 
science. Science stands or falls with " objective reference." l 
In ethics the doctrine means that there really is one moral standard 
for all of us, male or female, Greek or barbarian, bond or free. 
There really is one " eternal and immutable " morality, not a 
variety of independent moral standards, one perhaps for the 
" private man " and another for the " nation " or its politicians, 
or one for " the herd " and another for the " superman." The 
particular application of this conviction to the case of man and 
woman is shown to be genuinely Socratic by the fact that it not 
only appears in Republic v. as the principle on which Socrates 
justifies the participation of women in public life, but is also 
implied in the fragments of the Aspasia of Aeschines as his reason 
for asserting the capacity of women for the tasks of war and 
statesmanship. 2 

Meno is inclined at first to deny the position. But he has to 
admit that both what he regards as man's work and what he calls 
woman's work are only well done if they are performed with 
sophrosyne and justice, and similarly that wilfulness (uKoAacria) and 
unfairness are faults alike in children and in elderly men. Thus 
sophrosyne and justice emerge as characteristic of human goodness, 
irrespective of age, sex, or status. There is then such a thing as a 
" goodness in virtue of which all human beings are good " ; can 
Meno remember what Gorgias supposed this goodness to be ? He 
suggests that it may be " capacity to command " (f>xcu> olov T cTvai 
ruv avBpuirw, 73^). But what then about a child or a slave 
(who, of course, show their " goodness " not by giving orders, but 
by obeying them) ? And again, one may give unjust commands, 
and this can hardly be goodness, since it is not disputed by Meno 
that justice is a virtue and injustice a vice. We must at least 
qualify the statement by saying that goodness in man is the capacity 

1 We could not meet the argument by falling back on Aristotle's well- 
known doctrine of the " analogous " employment of universals. True as 
that doctrine is, it remains also true that in its strict and primary (Ktipiov) 
sense the universal can still be asserted of a plurality of subjects, and to be 
significant must be asserted of each and all of them in the same sense. Thus, 
even if it be granted, that there is no one common " goodness " of all things, 
e.g. that there is no more than an analogy between the goodness of a good 
razor and that of a good man, the Aristotelian ethics is based on the view that 
there is a " human goodness " which is one and the same for all men ; there 
is not one goodness of Peter and a different and merely analogous goodness of 
Paul. Peter and Paul have to be pronounced good or bad by the same 
standard. Aristotle's attempt in the Politics to justify the conventional pre- 
judice which sets up a different moral standard for the two sexes amounts to 
a denial of the moral unity of humanity, and contradicts the very principles 
on which his own ethics are constructed. 

1 See the collection of these fragments in H. Dittmar's Aeschines von 


to command justly (73d). This at once raises the question whether 
commanding justly is goodness or only ap^rrj ns, one form of 
goodness ; in fact, in the language of a more developed logic, whether 
we are not confusing a genus with one of its own species. We may 
illustrate the confusion by a simple example. It would be false 
to say that " circularity is figure " (o-x^tu), though true to say 
that it is one figure among others (732). There are other figures 
besides circles, and Meno admits that there are " many " forms of 
goodness besides justice. Our attempt at definition has failed ; 
like the original enumeration, it has left us with many goodnesses 
instead of one (746). 

Perhaps we may get a hint of the kind of statement we really 
want if we go back to our illustration of the circle. There are 
many figures (o^/mra) of which the circle is only one, just as there 
are many colours, of which, e.g., white is one among others. But we 
might try to define figure in a way which would express what is 
common to all figures, by saying, for example, that " figure is the one 
thing which always accompanies colour/' " the sole inseparable con- 
comitant of colour " (o p,6vov ru)j> OVTCOI/ rvy^ai/ct ^pupaTi act CTTO/XCVOV, 

750). It is true, as Meno remarks, that such a " definition " 
would involve the undefined term " colour." A pugnacious eristic 
would ignore this criticism ; he would retort that he had done 
his part in giving his own definition and that any amendment 
of it was the business of his antagonist. But we are not disputing 
for victory, and Socrates is ready to meet the criticism by attempting 
a better definition. Meno will admit that he knows what mathe- 
maticians mean by a " boundary " ; if we say then that " figure is 
the boundary of a solid " (o-reptov ircpa?), the statement will hold 
good universally and exclusively, and not be open to the criticism 
that it introduces a second " unknown " (760). 

Meno should now attempt a similar definition of goodness, but 
irrelevantly insists that Socrates shall go on to define colour. This, 
as Socrates says, is the mere whim of a capricious " beauty/' but 
he will comply with it. Meno at any rate will be satisfied by a 
definition based on the doctrine of Gorgias, which is derived from 
the " efflux " theory of Empedocles. 1 Assuming this theory, we 
may say that colour is "an efflux from surfaces which fits into the 
passages of the visual apparatus and is sensible " (aTroppoy o-^/xarwv 
6\l/i <rv/A/xTpos KCU cuo^Tos, j6d) , a definition which Meno thinks 

1 For the Empedoclean theory of the part played by these " effluxes " 
and the " passages '' in the sense-organs into which they fit, see Theophrastus 
de Sensu, 7-9, and the criticism of Aristotle de General. A 324^ 25^., de Sensu t 
4376 23ff., with the striking fragment 84 of Empedocles, quoted by Aristotle, 
de Sensu, 4376 26 [R.P. 1776, c] ; Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy 8 , 246-249. 
The definition is based on the Empedoclean theory because Gorgias, as a 
Sicilian, is assumed to be in accord with the biological views of the founder of 
Sicilian medicine. Quintilian iii. i, 8 [R.P. 232] gives it as the " tradition " 
that Gorgias had originally been a " disciple " of E. Cf. D.L. viii. 58-59. 
In the Timaeus Plato makes his spokesman, who is represented as holding the 
principles of the Sicilian medicine, give the same account of colours. (Tim. 


admirable, though Socrates calls it " stagy " and says it is inferior 
to that just given of figure. 1 

Meno at last makes an attempt at the definition of goodness. 
It is " to desire the fine things and to be able to secure them " 

(iinOv^ovvTa TWV KaA.o)i> Swarov slvai 7roptcr#ai, 776). But the State- 
ment is doubly open to criticism, (a) It implies that it is possible 
to desire what is not " fine," that is, to " desire evil." But, in fact, 
no one can or does desire what he knows to be evil, for that 
would be equivalent to the impossibility of desiring to be unhappy 
(770-786). The first clause of Meno's definition is thus superfluous, 
and it reduces to the statement that goodness is " ability to secure 
goods." (b) By " goods " he means, as he explains, such things as 
wealth, health, and high civic and social distinction (the ends, be 
it noted, of the " body-loving " and " distinction-loving " lives). 
But we cannot call ability to get these things by any means, fair 
or foul, goodness ; it would be truer to say that the virtuous man 
is /ncapable of gaining fortune or position by foul means. So we 
have to introduce the qualification that goodness is capacity to 
secure good things " by righteous " or " honest " means, or some- 
thing to that effect. Now righteousness, honesty, or whatever 
other qualifications we introduce, have already been admitted to 
be " parts " of goodness, so that we are in effect saying that good- 
ness or virtue is attaining certain ends by the practice of some 
specific virtue (i.e. we introduce one or more of the determinants 
of a given determinable into a proposed definition of that deter- 
minable itself, and thus commit a vicious "circle," 7?b~7ge). 
We are thus no nearer to a satisfactory definition than we were 

Meno is half inclined to lay the blame for the collapse of the 
argument on Socrates, who, he says, has the reputation of always 
being bepuzzled himself and communicating his bewilderment to 
others. He benumbs men's wits as the fish called vdpicrj benumbs 
their muscles if they touch it. In any other company Meno would 
have plenty to say about " goodness," but in the presence of 
Socrates he is " paralysed." In any foreign city Socrates would 
run a real risk of being arrested for sorcery. Socrates has to admit 
the accusation, with the reservation that the comparison with the 
vdpKr} is only apt on the assumption that the creature itself is as 
" numb " as its victims. The difficulties his conversation creates 
in others are only the reflection of those he finds in his own thinking. 
But if Meno will adventure on the definition of " goodness " over 
again, he will do his best to examine the new result (80 a-d). At 
this point Meno again tries to run off on an irrelevant issue. He 
brings up the " sophistic " puzzle which we have already met in 

1 Why does Socrates prefer the definition of figure to that of colour ? 
Presumably because the second implies a detailed physical and physiological 
speculation which is highly problematic ; the other presupposes only the 
principles of geometry, and geometry is an indubitable " science." The 
definition of colour is rpayuc/i, " stagy," because it makes a show with grand 
words which are only a cover for imprecision and uncertainty. 


the Euthydemus, that " inquiry " is impossible because you cannot 
inquire after something you already know, nor yet after what you 
do not know (since, in the second case, you would not even recog- 
nize the object you were looking for, if you should succeed in finding 
it). This dilemma, however, would cease to be a difficulty if there 
should be truth in a doctrine which Socrates has learned from 
" priests and priestesses who have been at the pains to understand 
their professional duties " and also from Pindar and other poets. 
The doctrine is that our soul is immortal and our present life only 
one episode in its history. If this is so, the soul must long ago 
have "learned" everything, and only needs to be "put in mind " 
of something it has temporarily forgotten in order to regain its 
knowledge by diligent following of the clue provided by " re- 
miniscence." Learning, in fact, is just a process of " re-call " 
(d^a/xv^o-ts) , and for this reason the sophistic argument to show 
that it is impossible to learn a new truth is a mere appeal to mental 
indolence (Soe-S2a). (As we are encountering the doctrine of 
" recollection " for the first time, it is worth while to note what the 
exact point of it is. It must be observed that it is not a theory of 
" innate ideas," or " innate knowledge," in the popular sense of the 
words. We are not supposed to bring any actual knowledge into 
the world ready-made with us. On the contrary, we are said to 
" have learned " truth but to have lost it again, and we have to 
recover what we have lost. The recovery requires a real and 
prolonged effort of steady thinking ; what " recollection," or more 
accurately " being reminded," does for us is to provide the starting- 
point for this effort. In the Phaedo, this is illustrated by the 
way in which chance " associations " will start a train of thinking, 
as when the sight of an absent friend's belongings or his portrait 
sets us thinking of the friend himself. The main emphasis thus 
falls not on the Orphic doctrine of pre-existence and re-incarnation, 
which Socrates professes to have learned from poets and priests, 
but on the function of sense-experience as suggestive of and pregnant 
with truths of an intelligible order which it does not itself adequately 
embody or establish. And the philosophical importance of the 
doctrine is not that it proves the immortality of the soul, 1 but that 
it shows that the acquisition of knowledge is not a matter of pas- 
sively receiving " instruction," but one of following up a personal 
effort of thinking once started by an arresting sense-experience. 
But for this " suggestiveness " of sense-experience the ignava ratio 
of the eristic, " you cannot learn the truth from any teacher, because 
unless you know it already, you will not recognize it for the truth 
when he utters it," would be valid. We see, then, why both 
Socrates and Plato hold that " knowledge " can only be won by 

1 In the Phaedo itself the argument is found insufficient to meet the 
formidable difficulty raised by Cebes that even if pre-existence is true, 
it gives us no guarantee that we shall continue to be after the dissolu- 
tion of our present body. For the illustrations from " association," see 
Phaedo, 73$ fi. 


personal participation in " research " ; it cannot simply be handed 
on from one man to another. 1 

An illustration of the principle that " learning " is really " being 
reminded of something/' i.e. is the following up by personal effort 
of the suggestions of sense-experience, may now be given. Socrates 
calls forward the lad who is attending on Meno, after satisfying 
himself that the boy can understand a question in plain Greek, but 
has never been taught any mathematics, and undertakes to show 
how he can be brought to see geometrical truths for himself by 
merely asking appropriate questions which enable the answerer 
to correct his own first hasty thoughts. The point to be estab- 
lished is that the areas of squares are proportional to the second 
powers of the lengths of their sides, and in particular that the area 
of a square described on the diagonal of one previously described 
is double the area of the original figure. 2 We are to think of 
Socrates, of course, as drawing the requisite figure, which will be 
found in any commentary on the Meno, in the sand as he speaks. 
The boy's first thought is that if we want to make a square with 
twice the area of a given one, we must make its sides twice as long. 
(That is, he argues, " since 2 2 =2 x 2, 4 2 =2 x 4.) He is easily made 
to see for himself that this cannot be true (since 4x4=16), and 
amends his first answer by suggesting that the side of the second 
square should be to that of the first as 3 to 2 (i.e. he suggests that 
3 2 =8). Again it is easy to get him to see that this is impossible 
(since 3 x 3 =9). The length of the line we require must be greater 
than that of our original line, but less than half as great again 
U/2 >!<!). And with a few more questions, the lad is led to 
see that the line we require as the base of our second square is no 
other than the diagonal of our original figure (826-856) . 3 The 
point insisted on is that the lad starts with a false proposition, is 
led to replace it by one less erroneous, and finally by one which, so 
far as it goes, is true. Yet Socrates has " told " him nothing. He 
has merely drawn diagrams which suggest the right answers to a 
series of questions. The only " information " he has imparted to 
the slave is that a certain line is technically called by " the sophists," 
i.e. " professionals/' a " diagonal." Everything else has been left 
to the boy to think out for himself in response to the suggestions 
provided by Socrates' diagrams and questions. Yet undeniably 

1 See the language on this point of Plato, Ep. vii. 34 ic. Perhaps I may 
refer to the statement of the theory in my little volume, Platonism and its 
Influence (Boston, U.S.A., 1925) c. 2, as well as to Burnet, Greek Philosophy, 
Part I., pp. 220-222. 

1 The particular theorem is chosen, no doubt, because of the importance 
of the " side and diagonal " as the most elementary instance of a pair of " in* 
commensurable " magnitudes. 

8 Thus, to put it arithmetically, what has been proved is that ^/2 lies some- 
where between i and 1-5. In the famous passage Rep. 5466 ff. it is made 
clear that Socrates, in fact, knows quite well how to construct the whole series 
of fractions which form the " successive convergents " to /^/2. For his 
purpose here it is enough to consider the " second convergent," |, and to 
show that this is too large a value. 


the lad began by not knowing something and ended by knowing it. 
Thus he " brought up the knowledge from within " (avaXaftw 
avros e avrov TYJV eTrtorr^ryv) , and such a process is " being re- 
minded," " recalling " something. We infer then that the slave 
once " had " the knowledge he had forgotten, and since he has 
never in this life been " taught " geometry, the " once " must have 
been " before he was a man, 1 ' l and thus we see that the soul is 
immortal. (Socrates, however, hastens to remark that he would 
not care to be too confident about anything in the theory except 
the main point that it proves that we can arrive at truth and thus 
saves us from the sloth and self-neglect which are natural conse- 
quences of the eristic ignava ratio (86ft). 2 ) 

We have wandered away far from our original question about 
the teachability of goodness, and Meno is anxious to have that 
answered without further digression. The humour of the situation 
is that this is impossible. We cannot really expect to know whether 
goodness or anything else can be taught unless we first know what 
the thing in question is, as we have admitted that we do not. But 
we may give a tentative and provisional answer to the question 
* v7ro0o-G>s, subject to an initial postulate, sous condition. Only 
we must make another digression to explain what we mean by 
this restriction. If you ask a geometer whether a certain problem 
is soluble, he may often have to say that he does not know whether 
the problem has a perfectly general solution or not, but that he can 
give a solution for it, subject to a specified restriction. This is 
illustrated for us by the example of a problem about the inscription 
of a triangle of given area in a circle of given diameter. The geo- 
meter may be unable to say whether the inscription can be effected 
unless the data are further specified by some restricting condition. 
He will then answer that " I cannot solve your problem as it 
stands, but if the area in question satisfies the condition X, the 
inscription is possible." 3 So we, in our present state of uncertainty 

1 The same way of speaking about our ante-natal condition as the " time 
when we were not yet men " is characteristic of the Phaedo. It implies that 
the true self is not, as is commonly thought, the embodied soul, but the soul 
sitnpliciter, the body being the instrument (tpyavw) which the soul " uses," 
and the consequent definition of " man " as a " soul using a body as its instru- 
ment." Since that which " uses " an implement is always superior to the 
implement it uses, this definition merely embodies the Socratic conviction 
that the soul is the thing of supreme value in us. 

* The caution should not be understood to mean that Socrates doubts the 
fact of immortality. His firm belief in that is the assumption of the Phaedo 
and is really presupposed by Apolog. 40^-410. He means, as he says, that he 
wiJl not go bail for the Xyos ; it is not really a complete demonstration of 
pre-existence and immortality, as is frankly admitted in the Phaedo, though, no 
doubt, it suggests their possibility. The real reason why Socrates attaches so 
much importance to the doctrine of " reminiscence " (di/d/uo/tm) is independent 
of the use of it as an argument for " survival." One should be careful to 
bear in mind that dpd/xiojcris does not properly mean in the theory " remember- 
ing," but " being reminded of " something. Sensible experiences are always 
" suggesting " to us " ideal " standards which none of them actually exhibit. 

3 The precise character of the restriction imposed by the geometer in 
Socrates' illustration has been a matter of much dispute, which is due partly 


about the true character of goodness, can only answer Meno's ques- 
tion sous condition If goodness is knowledge, then it is something 
which can be taught, i.e. according to the theory of learning we 
have just laid down, something which can be " recalled to mind " 
(dvajjivrjGrTov, 8jb) \ if goodness is anything other than knowledge, 
it cannot be taught. (We now see the real purpose of the introduc- 
tion of the doctrine of dva^i/^a-ts. The object is to show that though 
the " teachability " of goodness is a direct consequence of the 
Socratic principle that " goodness is knowledge," Socrates does not 
mean, as some of the " sophists " seem to have done, that a man 
can become good by any mere passive listening to the " instruc- 
tions " of a lecturer, since no knowledge whatever is acquired in this 
way ; all " learning " is an active response of personal thought and 
effort to the " hints " derived from a more mature fellow-learner.) 

Goodness, then, can be taught, if goodness is knowledge and not 
otherwise, and we are thrown back on the antecedent question 
whether goodness is or is not knowledge. (Thus we conform to the 
rule of order laid down at Phaedo wic-e. We first consider what 
are the " consequences," o-v/x/Jai'vovra, of a " postulate " ; only 
when we are clear on this preliminary question do we go on to ask 
whether the " postulate " itself can be " justified.") To answer 
our new question, we have again to start with an unproved " postu- 
late," the V7r69c<ri<> that apcrr} is a good thing. (No question arises 
of a " justification " of this inroOtans, because both Socrates and 
Meno accept it as common ground ; it is an i/cavoi/ T t such as is 
spoken of in the passage of the Phaedo about logical method.) It 
follows at once that if knowledge is the only good, " goodness " or 
" virtue " (aptrrj) must be knowledge ; if there are other goods 
besides knowledge, it is possible that apT-j may be one of these other 
goods (87^). Thus we find ourselves driven in the end to face the 
ultimate question whether knowledge is not the only good, or at any 
rate an indispensable constituent of all good. This question is now 
treated in the way already familiar to us. Whatever is good is 
" beneficial " (ox^cXi/xdv), i.e. does us good. Now the commonly 
recognized goods are such things as health, physical strength, 
comeliness, and we may add, wealth. But none of these is " un- 
conditionally " good ; all may " harm " their possessor ; they 
benefit him when they are rightly used but harm him when they are 
misused. So with the commonly recognized good characters of 
the " soul," of which Socrates proceeds to give a list. Courage, 
in the popular sense, covers " daring " or " venturesomeness " 
(Oappos) of every kind. But though venturesomeness combined 
with sound sense (vofc) is beneficial, senseless daring is harmful to 
its possessor, and the same thing is true of o-axfrpoa-vvr}, " appetitive 
coldness," retentive memory, and qualities of soul generally. To 

to uncertainty about the technical terminology of geometers in the fifth 
century. For our purpose it is sufficient to grasp the main point that there 
are such restrictions. It is, e.g., obvious that some restricting condition must 
connect the area of the given triangle with the radius of the given circle. 

For a correct solution see A. S. L. Farquharson in C.Q., xvii. i (Jan. 1923). 


be beneficial, they must be accompanied by intelligence or under- 
standing (^poFTyo-ts) ; they, too, are harmful when misused. We 
infer, then, that the goodness of all other good things is conditional on 
the " goodness of soul " of the possessor, and this again conditional 
on his intelligence (foovrjo-is). It follows that intelligence, or some 
specific form of intelligence (TJTOI a-v^nao-a r) juc'pos rt), is identical 
with " goodness," and therefore that " men are not good by 
nature/ 1 i.e. goodness is not a matter of congenital endowment (as 
Callicles maintains in the Gorgias for example, Sjd-Sqa). 1 

This last inference admits at once of empirical verification, for 
if goodness were congenital endowment, we could detect its presence 
in early life, and so we could secure a succession of true statesmen 
by merely selecting the properly endowed natures in early life and 
bringing them up " under guard/ 1 carefully isolated from all 
risks of contamination. 2 Yet, on second thoughts, we may see 
reason to distrust our identification of goodness with knowledge. 
If it were knowledge, surely there would be professional teachers 
of it and they would have " pupils." But there does not appear 
to be any such " profession." It is lucky for us that Anytus has 
just taken a seat by our side at this point of the conversation. He 
is the son of a worthy citizen who made a fortune by steady intelli- 
gence and industry ; the popular judgment is clearly that he has 
had an excellent early training and education, as is shown by his 
repeated election to high offices. His opinion on the question 
whether there are " teachers of goodness " ought therefore to be 
highly valuable (Sgb-qob). 

(Why does Plato introduce Anytus at this particular point ? 
Note that he is not supposed to have heard the preceding discussion, 
which he would have been quite incapable of appreciating. He 
comes up to the bench on which Socrates and Meno are sitting, 
and joins them just in the nick of time, as they are beginning to 
consider the problem about the professional teachers of goodness. 
Nor is there any appearance of " irony " in what is said about him ; 
unlike Xenophon, Plato never suggests that Anytus had any dis- 
creditable private motives for supporting the prosecution of Socrates. 
The irony of the passage only concerns Anytus to the same degree 

1 Note again the exact correspondence of the Socratic argument for the 
identity of virtue and knowledge with Kant's argument for the thesis that 
the only unconditional good is the " good will." Kant's further proposal to 
make conformity with the bare form of a universal imperative the direct and 
sufficient criterion of right action might be said to be simply a reckless develop- 
ment of one side of the Socratic ethics, its " intellectualism," in unreal isolation 
from its " eudaemonism." 

3 It might be objected, is not this selection, here assumed to be impossible, 
actually proposed as the very foundation of the " ideal state " in the Republic ? 
The answer is No. In the Republic it is, of course, recognized that endowment 
counts for something, and therefore there is an early initial selection of pro- 
mising future " guardians." But educational tradition counts for much 
more ; hence the length at which the problem of the creation of a right 
educational tradition is discussed, and the provision for promotions and 
degradations at all stages according as the subject under education justifies 
Qr belies his early " promise/' 


as the whole of the Athenian public who respect and trust him. 
It is clearly meant that, to the measure of his intelligence, Anytus 
is an able and public-spirited man who deserves the trust he receives. 
This defect, one which he shares with the whole Athenian public, 
is simply that he is an esprit borne. He has the average Athenian 
democratic prejudice against men who are " too clever/' the 
intelligentsia, and the average Athenian's incapacity for ever calling 
his own prejudices in question, and it is just because he is such a 
" representative man " that the public trust him. The purpose of 
bringing him in is clearly to make us realize the violence of the 
Athenian prejudice against the " intellectuals/ 1 and the inability 
of even a well-to-do and " educated " public man to discriminate 
between Socrates and the " intellectuals by profession. 1 ' If 
Socrates could be so misconceived by the " leaders of public opinion," 
we understand how he came to be prosecuted without needing to 
impute his fate to anything worse than honest stupidity.) 

If you wish a young man to learn a science such as medicine or an 
accomplishment such as flute-playing, to whom do you send him ? 
You always select a teacher who claims to be a professional expert, 
and for that very reason charges a fee for his instructions ; you 
would never think of putting him under a mere " amateur "who 
does not make a profession of imparting his own skill. It should 
seem, then, that statesmanship, the science of the right conduct of 
affairs and the right manage of life must, by parity of reasoning, be 
learned from the specialists who claim to have made a profession 
of teaching its principles, and consequently, like all professionals, 
charge a fee that is, from the " sophists, as men call them." 
Anytus has the profoundest horror of the whole profession ; they 
are, he says, as every one can see, mere depravers and corrupters 
of all who frequent their lectures. Yet it is difficult to accept this 
view of them. It would be a unique fact that any class should 
make a paying profession of visibly spoiling the materials entrusted 
to it. 1 In point of fact, Protagoras made a considerable fortune 
by the trade of " teaching goodness," and he exercised it for over 
forty years. Thus there was plenty of time for him to be found 
out in, but he never was found out, and his high reputation has 
survived him to this day, and he is not the only example in point. 2 
Anytus is quite sure, though he is thankful he has never in his life 
had to do with a sophist, that the sophist is a designing scoundrel, 

1 E.g. the medical profession would not continue to provide anyone with 
a living wage if medical men really killed off their patients. In real life a 
"faculty" of Sangrados would be "found out." Anytus supposes that the 
" sophists " have been found out, and yet contrive to grow fat on their quackery. 

2 1 think we are bound to take the observations about Protagoras (Meno, 
gid-e) quite seriously. Socrates seriously means that the lifelong success 
of Protagoras, and the high esteem in which he was and is held, show 
that the democratic view that there was nothing at all in him, that he 
was " a palpable and mischievous impostor/' is far too simple to account 
for the facts. Protagoras may not have been all he supposed himself to be, 
but there must have been something in him to inspire such long-continued trust 
and veneration. 


and the society which does not make penal laws to suppress him a 
silly dupe. But, however true his views may be though by his 
own showing he must be arriving at them by " divination " they 
are not to the point. The question is not who are the corrupters 
of youth, but who are the " teachers of goodness " from whom the 
young may learn the true principles of the conduct of life. Anytus 
holds that we need specify no particular professional teachers ; the 
conduct of life can be learned from any " decent " Athenian, and 
he has learned it from his father, who learned it again from his. 
It is simply a matter of imbibing an hereditary tradition a view 
illustrated in the Protagoras by the way in which children pick up 
their mother-tongue or their father's trade without any formal 
teaching or apprenticeship (Prolag. 3270 ff.). To doubt the possi- 
bility of this would amount to denying that there have been " good 
men " in Athens (90^-93^). 

Socrates does not deny that there are and have been at Athens 
men who are " good at citizenship " (ayaOol ra iroAmica), 1 but what 
he does doubt is whether such men have also been competent 
teachers of the goodness they practise. The difficulty is that the 
sons of these men have all proved either worthless or insignificant. 
Thus they clearly did not teach their goodness themselves to their 
sons, and it is notorious that even those of them who, like 
Themistocles, were careful to have their sons trained in mere elegant 
accomplishments, never sent them to anyone for special education 
in " goodness." The obvious inference is that the " good Athenians/' 
whom Anytus regards as competent teachers of goodness, do not 
think themselves or anyone else competent to teach it ; they must 
have supposed that goodness is not the kind of thing which can be 
taught. Anytus is so chafed at having to listen to such unsparing 
criticism of the eminent figures of the national history that he misses 
the point and relapses into silence with an angry warning to Socrates 
that the Athenian democracy is no safe abode for a man who will 
not learn to bridle his tongue, 2 a plain hint, on Plato's part, that 

1 It has been suggested by Th. Gomperz that these words are meant to 
soften down the asperity of the declaration of the Gorgias that none of the 
great figures of Athenian democracy was a true statesman, and even that the 
chief motive of Plato in writing the Meno was to placate a public opinion 
naturally irritated by such utterances. This seems to me hopelessly fanciful. 
(a) There is really no " recantation " in the Meno. The democratic leaders 
had been denied in the Gorgias to be statesmen on the ground that they were 
empirics, whereas statesmanship is a science. According to the Meno, these 
same leaders are so convinced that their own " goodness " is not teachable 
that they make no attempt to get it taught to their sons. This is just the 
criticism of the Gorgias put in other words, (b) In one respect the Meno 
goes further than the Gorgias. That dialogue had conceded Athens at least 
one genuine statesman, Aristides " the just " (Gorgias, 5266). In the Meno 
Aristides figures among the rest of the famous men who must have supposed 
that goodness cannot be taught, since he never had it taught- to his son 
(Meno, 94^). 

* Hannibal Chollop's advice to Mark Tapley, " You had better crack us up, 
you had," is much the same as that Anytus gives to Socrates, and in both 
cases the warning is probably not meant unkindly. 


it was just this sort of unsparing and impartial free speech about 
the democracy and its leaders which caused the mistaken but 
intelligible suspicion of incivisme to attach to the philosopher 
(936-950). That Socrates was really in the habit of employing 
these criticisms is clear from the fact that the wry same use of the 
argument about statesmen and their sons occurs both in the Prota- 
goras and in the Alcibiades, 

The sophists may, in any case, be dismissed from the discussion, 
since Meno, on the whole, agrees with Anytus that they cannot teach 
goodness and thinks it a point in favour of Gorgias that he dis- 
claimed the pretension. In fact, most men, like the poet Theognis, 
find themselves unable to make up their minds whether goodness is 
teachable or not. They say " Yes " and " No/' according to their 
moods. Goodness is thus in a uniquely unfortunate position. 
The claims of the professional teachers are generally disbelieved, 
and the persons whose practice is generally admired cannot make 
up their own minds whether their specialty can be taught. It looks 
as though there were neither teachers nor learners of goodness, and 
consequently that it is not a thing which can be taught. But how, 
then, is it ever produced, as we must admit that it is ? On second 
thoughts, we see a way out of the difficulty. Knowledge is not the 
only thing which is beneficial in practice. A right belief (opOrj 8da) 
will direct practice as satisfactorily as genuine knowledge. A guide 
who had a right belief about the road to Larissa would take you 
there as successfully as one who really knew the way. For practical 
purposes, then, a right belief is as good as knowledge but for one 
trifling drawback. There would be no practical difference, if you 
could make sure that a man will always retain his right belief. 
But beliefs are like the fabled statues of Daedalus, which can walk 
away if they are not fastened to their place. The statues are fine 
pieces of work, but their price is naturally low if they are loose. 
So a correct belief is a fine thing, if it will only stay with you, but 
it will not stay long unless you fasten it down am'as Aoy tor/up " by 
thinking out the reason why " of it (980), and this process is what 
we have already called " being reminded " (dva/Av^cris). When 
we have thought out the " reason why," the belief becomes know- 
ledge and is abiding. We may apply this distinction to the solution 
of our problem. 

The " eminently good men " of Athens plainly do not owe their 
usefulness as political leaders to knowledge, for if they did, they 
could teach " statesmanship " to others. Themistocles and the 
rest were therefore not "scientific statesmen/' not o-o^ot (996) 
the conclusion also reached in the Gorgias and it is absurd to think 
they owed all their achievements to accident. Their successes 
must have been due to " correct opinions " (cv8oia, 996). They 
were much on a level with givers of oracles and diviners, who often 
say very true things without knowing it (since the responses are 
delivered in a sort of temporary "frenzy"). Thus we may class 
together " seers/' poets, and statesmen, as beings who all say and 


do brilliant things without really knowing what they are saying 
or doing, because they are all acting in a state of " possession," 
though Anytus, perhaps, will not like our conclusion (956-995) , 1 
To sum up, then : goodness is neither inborn nor yet learned from 
teachers, but arises from a happy irrational " divine possession " 
(0ip /Wpa avtv vov), unless, indeed, there could arise a statesman 
who could teach statesmanship to others. His " goodness " would 
be to that of other men what substance is to shadow. We must, 
however, remember that our conclusion is tentative ; we cannot 
say with certainty how goodness arises until we have answered the 
still outstanding question what it is. In the meanwhile Meno 
would be doing Athens a service if he could make Anytus more sym- 
pathetic with our point of view (gge-iooc). 

The full meaning of these last remarks only comes out when we 
read them in the light of the Republic and Phaedo. The " states- 
man who can make another a statesman " is just the philosopher- 
king of the Republic, where the crowning achievement of the " ideal 
state " is to make provision for the permanent teaching of a states- 
manship which is science, clear intellectual insight into fundamental 
moral principles, not a succession of " inspired " adventures, and 
the provision takes the form of a system of thorough education in 
hard scientific thinking which culminates in the direct apprehension 
of " the good/' In the light of this educational scheme, we can 
see that the main object of the concluding argument in the Meno 
is to distinguish between a higher and a lower kind of goodness. 
The higher kind is that which the Republic calls the goodness of the 
philosopher, and it is based upon certain and assured personal 
knowledge of the true scale of goods, and is therefore " abiding." 
The lower kind, which is at best a " shadow " of true goodness, is 
based on " opinions " which are true, but are not knowledge, and 
therefore not to be counted on as permanent ; in fact, it rests on 
acceptance of a sound tradition of living which has not been con- 
verted into personal insight into the scale of goods. This is all 
which is demanded in the Republic even of the soldiers of the 
State ; their goodness is loyalty to a tradition of noble living in 
which they have been brought up, but of which they have never 
even asked the reason why, life by an exalted standard of " honour." 
Since there are sound elements in the moral tradition of any 
civilized community, it is possible for an Athenian statesman in 
whom the best traditions of his city are inbred to " profit " the 
State by goodness of this inferior kind, " popular goodness," as the 
Phaedo calls it, But security for permanent continuance in well- 
doing is only to be had when a sound traditional code of conduct 
has been converted into " knowledge " by understanding of the 

1 Socrates regards the achievements of a Themistocles or a Pericles as 
''wizardry," but he does not mean this as a compliment. "Possession" 
was popularly regarded as a kind of disease, and we have only to go to Aristo- 
phanes to see what the current estimate of xpWWSoL an ^ QCOUL&VTW was. 
The effect of his classification is much that which might be produced to-day by 
speaking together of " ventriloquists, mediums, and cabinet ministers." 


lc reason why," that is by personal insight into the character of 
good and personal understanding of the place of each of the 
" goods " of life in the hierarchy of good. Thus the true states- 
man would be the Socratic philosopher who understands the 
principle that the " tendance of the soul " is the supreme business 
of both individual and State, and judges soundly of the nature of 
the " spiritual health " at which the " tendance " aims. Of course, 
we readily see that " philosophic goodness," being thus identical 
with knowledge of true good, must be " teachable," if you go to 
work the right way, whereas a " goodness " which does not repose 
on apprehension of principles cannot be taught ; it can only be 
" imbibed " by habit uat ion in conformity to a tradition. The 
vacillation of mankind in their attitude to the teachability of 
virtue is thus to be explained by the ambiguity of the word " good- 
ness " ; men are dimly aware that real goodness depends on grasp 
of intelligible principles and thus ought to be teachable, but they 
confuse this real goodness with its shadow, loyalty to an established 
tradition qua established, and common experience shows that this, 
however it is to be secured, cannot be secured by teaching. The 
contributions of the dialogue to the theory of knowledge, the ex- 
position of the doctrine of " reminiscence " and of the principles 
of method, with all their importance, are meant to be secondary 
to this main result ; the account of pre-existence and immortality, 
again, is strictly subordinate to the theory of ai/a'/x^crts itself. 
It would be a complete misunderstanding to find the main purport 
of the dialogue in these things, though there is no reason to doubt 
that they were connected in the personal Welt-Anschauung of 
Socrates with his main tenet, the supreme worth of the i/^?/ and 
its specific good, knowledge. 

See further : 

RITTER, C. Platon, i. 391-449 (Gorgias), 476-484 (Meno). 
RAEDER, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 111-125 

(Gorgias), 130-137 (Mend). 
THOMPSON, W. H. The Gorgias of Plato. 
NETTLESHIP, R. L. Plato's Conception of Goodness and the Good 

(Lectures and Remains, i. 238-394). 
DIES, A. Autour de Platon, ii. 414-418, 462-469. 
STEWART, J. A. Myths of Plato, 1-76 (Introduction), 114-132 

(The Gorgias Myth) ; Plato's Doctrine of Ideas, 24-29 

(Meno), 29-34 (Gorgias). 
STENZEL, J. Platon der Erzieher, 147-178. 




I HAVE reserved these well-known dialogues for considera- 
tion at this point for the simple reason that it is difficult to 
separate them from the Phaedo ; thus it is natural to make 
the treatment of them the immediate prelude to a study of the 
four great works in which Plato's dramatic genius shows itself 
most perfect. I do not mean to imply that I regard the whole 
series of dialogues which centre round the trial and death of Socrates 
as uninterruptedly following one another in order of composition. 
As I have already explained, I do not feel satisfied that we are safe 
in saying more on the question than that the slighter works we are 
considering must, at least in the main, be regarded as earlier than 
the four great dramatic dialogues. It is possible, perhaps even 
probable, that at any rate the Apology may have been written 
before several of the works we have already dealt with, but the 
probability need not affect our treatment if it is true, as the present 
analysis tries to show, that there is no serious variation in the 
doctrine of Plato's dialogues until we come to the series unmistak- 
ably shown by style to be later than the Republic. In treating of 
the whole series of these " dialogues of the trial and imprisonment " 
I shall avail myself fully of the commentaries of Professor Burnet 
(Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, 1924; Phaedo, 1911) ; this will make it 
possible to aim at a brevity which I should have been only too glad 
to secure for some other parts of this book. 

i. Euthyphro. On all questions connected with the scene and 
personages of the dialogue, see Burnet's Introductory Note, to which 
I would only append the following remarks. It is not certain that 
the Euthyphro of our dialogue is the person of the same name whom 
we have encountered in the Cratylus, though this is possible. If 
the two men are one and the same, we shall clearly have to think of 
Euthyphro as now in middle age and his father as a man of some 
seventy-five or more. To my own mind, the tone of the conversa- 
tion is consistent with these suppositions and inconsistent with 
regarding Euthyphro as in any sense young. (He is a familiar 
figure in the ecclesia which he often addresses.) I fully agree with 
Burnet that the supposed proceedings by Euthyphro against his 
father as a murderer must be historical fact ; the situation is too 

bizarre to be a natural fiction. Also I think it clear that legally 



Euthyphro had no case and was probably non-suited by the 
Basileus, but I would add that in all probability Euthyphro himself 
counted on this issue. His object, as he explains at 4^, is to clear 
himself from the religious pollution incurred by being in any way 
accessory to a </>ovos. If he files an information against his father, 
even with full knowledge that it will be dismissed on technical 
grounds, he has done all that a scrupulous conscience can require. 
Any possible " pollution " will henceforth rest not on him but on 
the authorities, and he would probably feel himself free for the 
future to live in ordinary family relations with his father. This 
is presumably what he wished to do. We need not suppose that 
he expects or desires any grave consequences to happen to the old 
gentleman. As to the main purpose of the dialogue, again, I think 
Burnet is clearly right. As both Plato and Aeschines represent, 
Socrates had lived in association with religious ascetics and mystics 
of the Orphic type ; every one also knew that he had been formally 
convicted of some kind of religious innovation. The natural 
inference would have been that he was himself a sectary much of the 
same type as Euthyphro, as Euthyphro seems to suppose. It was 
a duty of piety to his memory to make it clear that his views on 
religion were very different from those of a sect who found the 
" deep things of God " in stories like those of the binding of Cronus 
and the mutilation of Uranus tales which had nothing to do with 
the official worship of Athens and were repulsive to the ordinary 
Athenian. It is equally clear that Euthyphro is not intended, as 
has often been said, to represent "Athenian orthodoxy," i.e. the 
attitude of the dicasts who voted for the conviction of Socrates, 
since, as Burnet points out, he instinctively takes the side of 
Socrates as soon as he has heard the nature of the charge against 
him, and classes Socrates and himself together as theologians 
exposed to the unintelligent derision of the " vulgar." x 

Ostensibly the problem of the dialogue is to determine the real 
character of OO-IOTT/S, "piety," or as we should probably say now, 
" religion," that part of right conduct which is concerned with 
man's duty to God. As usual, no final result is expressly arrived 
at, but the interest lies in the comparison of two different con- 
ceptions of what " religion "is. The conclusion to which we seem 
to be coming, but for an unexpected difficulty, is that religion is 
the " art of traffic between man and gods," or the art of receiving 
from the gods and giving to them (Euthyphro, iqd, e). On the face 
of it, this is a view of religion thoroughly in keeping with the more 
sordid side of the ancient State cultus, which was very much regulated 

1 See the full treatment of all this in Burnet, op. cit. pp. 2-7. As to the 
ordinary Athenian estimate of the Hesiodic stories about Uranus and Cronus, 
see Aristophanes, Clouds, 904, Isocrates, xi. 38-40. How far the Athenians 
were from taking Cronus seriously is sufficiently shown by the simple fact that 
Kpbvot is Attic for " old Methusalem " or " Rip van Winkle." Even the 
allusion of Aeschylus, Ag. 168 ff., has a touch of contempt for the unnamed 
being who is now " down and out" (rpm/mfcoj otx^r cu rvx&v) and the " bully " 
who preceded him (ra^/idx^ Bpdafi 


on the do ut des principle. It exactly hits off, for example, the 
spirit of religio as understood in the early days of the Roman 
republic. Hence it is not surprising that more than one editor 
(Adam, Burnet) should have found the real point of the dialogue 
in a hint thrown out, but not lollowed up, a little earlier (Euthyphro, 
130), that religion should rather be thought of as the co-operation of 
man with God towards some noble result (wdyKaXov cpyoy) which 
is left unspecified. It is at least certain that the making of this 
point is one of the main objects of the discussion, and that the view 
is shown to arise directly out of the application to religion of the 
notion of " tendance " (Oepairfia), so fundamental in the Socratic 
ethics. But I think it would probably be mistaken to suppose 
that the other formula is intended to be rejected as conveying 
a selfish and sordid conception of religion. In the sense put upon 
it by ordinary Athenian practice, and apparently by Euthyphro 
himself, that religion consists in knowing how to perform a ritual 
worship which will procure tangible returns for the worshipper, 
the formula is, no doubt, sordid enough and wholly at variance with 
the conception of God and the service of God attributed to Socrates 
throughout the dialogues. But this interpretation is not the only 
one which could be put on the phrase. If we think rightly of the 
blessings for which it is proper to pray, it will be a worthy con- 
ception of religion that it is an intercourse between man and God 
in which we offer " acceptable sacrifice " and receive in return the 
true goods of soul and body. 1 And there can be no doubt both that 
" praying and sacrificing aright " are oo-tor^ and that 60-101-779, 
since it is virtue or a part of virtue, is in the Socratic view an eVionJ/^ 
or Txrq, an application of knowledge to the regulation of practice. 
Plato himself, who deals with the regulation of institutional religion 
at length in the Laws, would have had nothing in principle against 
such a formula, rightly interpreted. The early Academy seem to 
have been right in including among their definitions of "piety" 
(cvcre/?cia) alternative formulae which are obviously conflations 
of the different suggestions of our dialogue, " a faculty of the 
voluntary service of the gods ; right belief about honouring the 
gods ; the science of honouring the gods." 2 Hence I do not feel 
at liberty to treat the two suggestions about the nature of religion 
as meant to be exclusive of one another. 

A very brief analysis of the argument will enable us to re- 

1 Cf. the model of an acceptable prayer offered by Socrates, Phaedrus, 
2jgc, and the conception of dai/novcs as the middlemen in the " traffic 
between man and God" in the speech of Diotima reproduced by Socrates in 
Symposium, 2020. 

2 [Plat.] Def. 4120 14, Sfoafus OcpcnrevTtK^ Oe&v tKofotos' irepl Oe&v TI/JLTJS vw6\r)\J/is 
6p6J)' tTriffTJijLL'y) irepl Oe&v TIJULTJS. Cf. the definition of ayveiu (ibid. 414^ 12), TT?S 
0eov T(^J /card <f>fotv Oepcnrcla, and of d<noi> (ibid. 415^1 g], OepAirevfJui 0eou Apetrrbv 
0y. That the Academic definitions of our Plato MSS. in the main belong 
to the earliest days of the Academy is shown by the frequent appeals made 
to them in Aristotle, especially in the Topics. In some cases the testimony 
of Aristotle enables us to refer a definition specifically to Speusippus or 
Xenocrates as the author. 


discover in the Euthyphro the principal points of both ethical and 
metaphysical doctrine with which we are already familiar. 

The act for which Euthyphro is arraigning his father, we must 
remember, is specifically an offence against religious law, not a 
civil wrong, and Euthyphro does not profess to be in any way 
actuated by motives of humanity or regard for civil right. He is 
afraid of incurring religious " pollution " by living in household 
relations with a " sacrilegious person," and wishes to safeguard 
himself. It is implied that, the average Athenian, who is shocked 
at his procedure, is ignorant of or indifferent to the religious law 
in which Euthyphro considers himself an expert. Obviously, then, 
as a " doctor in theology " he may be presumed to know what we 
might call " canon law " in its entirety, not merely the paragraphs 
of it which deal with homicide. Hence Socrates, as a person 
shortly to be accused of irreligion, appeals to him as an expert for 
an answer to the question what " piety " (TO cvo-cjSe?) or " religious 
duty " (TO oo-iov) is in its genuine character. There must be some 
one character which belongs to all action which is " religiously 
right " (oo-ioi/), and an opposite character which is shown in all 
action which is religiously wrong. There must be a definition of 
" religious obligation/' and we want to know what it is. It is 
noticeable that this common character of the " religiously right " 
is at the outset spoken of as a single tSe'a (Euthyphro, $d) and subse- 
quently as an cToo? (6d) and an ouo-ta (ua). This is the language 
familiar^ to us as technical in the so-called Platonic " theory of 
Forms,' 1 but it is represented as understood at once by Euthyphro 
without any kind of explanation. It seems quite impossible to 
escape the conclusion that from the very first Plato represented 
Socrates as habitually using language of this kind and being readily 
understood by his contemporaries. 1 

Like so many of the interlocutors in these early dialogues of 
Plato, Euthyphro at first confuses definition with the enumeration 
of examples. " Religious duty " is to proceed against the party 
guilty of an offence against religion, whether it be a homicide or a 
sacrilegious theft, or any other such crime, without being deterred 
by any regard for the ties of blood ; to neglect this duty is " irre- 
ligious " (5d-e). We have the best of examples for this, that of 
Zeus himself who " chained " his own father. Of course, if this 
statement is taken to be more than a production of instances, it 
would be delightfully " circular/ 1 since it makes religious duty 
amount to active opposition to irreligion. Socrates prefers to 
regard the statement as a mere illustration and simply repeats 
his request for an account of the " one form " in virtue of which 

1 There is indeed an important point on which Socrates is represented as 
needing to explain himself in the Phaedo ; he has to explain at some length 
how the theory of Forms bears on the problem of " coming into being and 
passing out of being." We may readily believe that this would need some ex- 
plaining to most persons, but the meaning of the words, ISta, elSos, and the 
reality of the existence of " forms," is simply presupposed in the Phaedo, as 
elsewhere, without any explanation or justification. 


all religious duties are religious. This leads to a first attempt at 
definition : " the religious is what is pleasing to the gods, the 
irreligious what is not pleasing to them" (6e). This is, in form, a 
good definition ; whether it is sound in substance remains to be 
seen. The difficulty is that, according to Euthyphrp himself, dis- 
sensions and enmities exist among the gods. 1 Now it is not every 
disagreement which leads to quarrels and enmities. A difference of 
opinion about number, size, or weight is readily settled by an 
appeal to counting, measuring, or weighing. It is when we come to 
disagreement about moral questions " right and wrong, fine and 
ugly, good and bad " that it is hard to find a standard by which to 
settle the disagreement, and this is why it is regularly differences of 
this kind which lead to quarrels and factions among us 2 (jc-d). 
We may fairly reason that if the gods quarrel and fight, it is over 
the same questions ; they quarrel about right and wrong, and each 
party will be pleased by what it regards as right and offended by 
what it thinks wrong. Thus what pleases one god may offend 
another, and the same act will be, in that case, both religious and 
irreligious (So). Cronus, for example, can hardly be supposed to 
approve of Euthyphro's present proceedings. 

Euthyphro's way of meeting the difficulty is to commit in an 
undisguised form the circle already implied in his original state- 
ment. There are points, he urges, on which all the gods would 
agree ; they would all agree, for example, that wrongful homicide 
ought not to go unpunished. (Thus he suggests that the definition 
might run that religious acts are those which the gods approve 
unanimously, with the explanation that the class " acts unani- 
mously approved by the gods " is identical with the class of rightful 
acts.) But the suggestion makes matters no better. No one, not 
even the defendant in a prosecution for homicide, ever denies that 
wrongful homicide, or any other wrongful act, ought to be punished. 
The issue at stake is always which of the two parties is in the wrong 
and what is the precise character of the wrong committed. If the 

1 These " wars in heaven " refer principally to the stories of the dethrone- 
ment of Cronus and the Titans and the war of the gods with the giants, to 
which allusion has already been made. They are part of the Orphic and the 
Hesiodic theogonies. Socrates does not believe such stories (Euthyphro, 6a-c) 
and it is easy to show that they were not taken seriously by Athenians in 
general, but Euthyphro has expressly avowed his belief in them and still 
stranger tales (66), and it is he who is offering the definition. Hence the 
objection is perfectly valid against him. 

* The passage is noteworthy. Plato is fond of assimilating the use of a 
true " scale of values " to the employment of number, measure, and weight. 
We may fairly conjecture with Burnet that the suggestion comes from 
Socrates. Knowledge of good, by enabling us to estimate correctly the relative 
worth of different " goods," would reduce our heated quarrels about our 
" rights " to a problem in " moral arithmetic." There is much truth in this. 
In the bitterest of such quarrels both parties often sincerely wish for no 
more than their " fair due." The trouble is that they cannot agree on the 
question how much that is. Compare Leibniz's hope that a perfected 
" symbolic logic" would reduce all philosophical disputes to the working of 
a" calculation." 


gods are at variance, then, their difference cannot be on the 
question whether a wrongful act should be punished, but on the 
very different question what acts are wrongful. How do we know, 
for example, that different gods might not be of different mind 
about the Tightness or wrongfulness of the step Euthyphro is 
now taking ? This, however, is only a minor difficulty. We may 
allow Euthyphro to put his definition in the amended form, " The 
religious is that which the gods approve and the irreligious that 
which they disapprove unanimously/ 1 But we still have to ask 
the graver question, " Is a religious act religious because the gods 
approve it, or do they approve it because it is religious ? " (86-ioa). 
(The question is one which has played a prominent part in 
ethical controversy in later days. It amounts to asking whether 
acts of piety, or more generally virtuous acts, derive their character 
of being right from the mere fact of being commanded, or are com- 
manded because they are antecedently intrinsically right. Are the 
" commandments of God " arbitrary ? Is moral obligation created 
by the imposition of a command ? This is, in effect, the thesis of 
both Hobbes and Locke, and is what Cudworth is denying in his 
treatise on Eternal and Immutable Morality, when he sets himself 
to argue that acts are good or bad " by nature " and not by " mere 
will." The same issue reappears in a different terminology in the 
objection taken against Hutcheson's doctrine of an " implanted 
moral sense " by those who urged that on the theory in question 
our Creator might have given us an inverted " moral sense," and 
then the promotion of human misery would have been our highest 
duty.) x The point is too fine to be taken at once by a man of 
Euthyphro's type, and therefore has to be explained at a length 
which we find superfluous. The difficulty hardly exists for us, 
because we are accustomed from childhood to the distinction be- 
tween the active and passive " voices " of a verb. In the time of 
Plato there was, as Burnet reminds us, no grammatical termin- 
ology ; the very distinction between a verb and a noun is not 
known to have been drawn by anyone before Plato himself, and 
that in a late dialogue, the Sophistes. The point to be made is 
the simple one that a definition of an ouo-ta cannot properly be 
given by means of a verb in the passive voice (Burnet, loc. cit.). 
That is, it is no answer to the question what something is, to be 
told what some one or something else does to it. In more scholastic 
terminology, a formula of this kind would be a definition by means 
of a mere " extrinsic denomination," and would throw no light 
on the quiddity of the definiendum. 2 (It must be remembered that 

1 The problem was also a prominent one in the age of Scholasticism. It 
is against the view that obligation is created by command that St. Thomas 
(S.C.G. iii. 122) says that fornication is not sufficiently proved to be sinful 
by alleging that it is an " injury to God." " For we only offend God by 
doing what is against our own good." It therefore still remains to show 
that the conduct in question is " against our own good." 

1 Of course such definitions are common enough ; e.g. you could not define 
" trustee " except by a verb in the passive voice or its equivalent. But what 


in a question of moral science we are not concerned with a purely 
nominal definition, like those of mathematics, the mere interpreta- 
tion of a new symbol by a combination of symbols already familiar. 
The definition of a character such as oViov is inevitably a real 

definition, and this is why Socrates calls it a discourse about an 

' \ 


The principle to be laid down is that when something happens 
to, or is done to, a thing there is always a correlated person or 
thing who is the doer. Thus if a thing is carried, or is seen, there 
is some one or something who carries or sees that thing. And when 
we use a " passive " participle or adjective to characterize any- 
thing, we do so "because something is being done to the thing by 
something else. (Thus, it is meant, if a thing is being seen by 
some one it is a " thing seen " or visible (opw/xevov), but you could 
not argue that because a thing is visible some one must actually 
be seeing it. 1 ) In other words, a passive participle or adjective 
of passive sense is always a denominatio extrinseca. Now a thing 
which is liked or approved (<j[>i\ovju.evov) comes under this rule ; 
"it is not because it is a-thing-approved that some one ap- 
proves it ; it is because some one actually approves it that it is 
a-thing-approved" (T.OC.) But this consideration is fatal to our 
proposed formula, if the formula be taken as a definition of 
TO oViov. If " all the gods " approve the " religious act," that, as 
Euthyphro concedes at once, is because the act is " religious " ; 
its character as o<ru>v is the cause of their approbation. The 
" extrinsic denomination " thing - approved - by - the - gods, on 
the other hand, only belongs to TO 6Viov as a consequence of 
the fact that the gods approve it. Thus the formula does not 
tell us what the character on the ground of which the gods 
approve certain acts is (its ovo-t'a), but only something which 
happens to these acts, namely, that the gods approve them; 
it tells us an "affection" (?ra0os) of the "religious," not its 
quiddity (na). 2 

Thus we have to begin the work of looking for a definition of 
the " religious " over again. Our definitions keep running away 
from us, like the mythical statues of Daedalus, the reputed ancestor 
you are really defining in this case is a relation, the relation of the trustee to 
the " truster." In the case of rb &ffiov we are attempting to define a 
quality (irA0os)> and it is no definition of this quality to say that " the gods 
like it." 

1 Berkeley, it is true, seems sometimes to be arguing as though we could 
infer from the fact that a thing is visible, the further fact that some one is 
always seeing it. But even he would hardly have argued that if a thing is 
eatable, some one must be eating it. 

1 It is tacitly assumed that if the gods approve x, y, z . . . they do so 
for an intelligible reason. There is some character common to x, y, z over 
and above the " extrinsic denomination " of being in fact approved, and this 
character is the ground of the approbation. On the use of the words otota, 
wdOos (the most general name for anything, mode, quality, relation, etc., which 
can be asserted of a subject), see Burnet's notes, loc. cit. The way in which 
the terms are used without explanation implies that they are part of an 
already familiar logical terminology. 


of Socrates. 1 Socrates must have inherited, much against his will, 
a double portion of his ancestor's gift, for it seems that he can 
bestow mobility on other men's " products " as well as on his own. 
But he will try to do what he can to remedy the trouble. At this 
point (120) the discussion makes a fresh start a start, we may note, 
due to the direct suggestion of Socrates, whose part in the dialogues 
is by no means so exclusively that of a mere critic of others as is 
sometimes fancied. What is the relation of oo-tov (religion) to 
oiKatoo-vvy (duty, obligation, morality in general)? We both 
admit that whatever is religious (oo-tov) is " dutiful " or " right " 
(OIKCLIOV) ; can we convert the proposition simpliciter and say that 
whatever is right is religious ? I.e. is all duty duty to God ? 
Euthyphro has the difficulty which seems to beset all beginners in 
logic in seeing that the universal affirmative proposition does not 
admit of simple conversion, and the point has to be made clear 
to him by examples. All reverence (atSws) is fear, but it is not 
true that all fear (e.g. fear of illness) is reverence. All odd integers 
are numbers, but all numbers are not odd. Reverence is a " part " 
of fear as " odd number " is of number. In the more developed 
logical terminology of Aristotle, the thing would, of course, be 
expressed by saying that reverence and odd number are species 
(etSr;) of the genera fear and number, but Plato, who sits loose to 
terminology, except when it is needed for the purpose immediately 
in hand, habitually uses the word " part " (/*O/HOV, /IC/DOS) for what 
we still call the membra dividentia of a logical " division." When 
the point has been explained to him, Euthyphro at once answers 
that TO OO-IQV is only one part of TO SiWoi/ that is, in modern 
language, that duty to God is not the whole of the duty of man, but 
one specific branch of it. Thus, like the mass of mankind, he 
believes in a plurality of distinct " virtues. 1 ' Man has, e.g., a certain 
set of " duties to God," and another distinct set of duties to his 
fellow-men, and it would follow that you might specialize in one of 
these branches of duty but neglect the others. You might be 
strong in " religion " but weak, e.g., in honesty, like the legendary 
Welshman who " had a wonderful gift in prayer but was an awful 
liar. 1 ' From the Socratic point of view, this would be impossible. 
All virtue is knowledge of good, and consequently any one real 
virtue, if you live up to it, will prove to cover the whole of human 
conduct. The " content " of morality and that of religion would 
thus alike be the whole sphere of human conduct, and it would be 
quite impossible in principle to distinguish a man's " religious " 
from his " moral " duties. At bottom, the reason why the Euthyphro 
ends negatively is the same as that which accounts for the formally 
negative result of the Laches or Charmides, the fact that genuine 
" goodness " is a unity. 

1 For the point of the jest, see Burnet, loc. cit. It would be spoilt if there 
were any truth in the later story that Socrates was actually the son of a 
sculptor and had practised the calling himself, as any intelligent reader ought 
to see. 


This is suggested at once for us in izd. If " religion " is a 
" part " of morality, we must go on to ask " which " part it is; 
i.e., to use the technical phrase which meets us as such for the first 
time in the Theaetetus, we must ask for the " difference " which 
marks off " religious " duties from the rest of our duties. We 
may suggest that TO Suctuov can be divided into two species, the 
" cult " or " service " (OepaTreta) of the gods and the cult or service 
of man ; the former will be religion (120). The thought is that all 
morality is service, and that service falls under two mutually 
exclusive heads, the " service of God," and " the service of man/' a 
view still widely popular. (From Socrates' point of view, of course, 
the view would be false ; you cannot serve man without in the 
very act serving God, nor serve God without serving man.) 

To follow the argument to which this third attempt at a defini- 
tion gives rise, we have to remember that the word Otpavtta was 
in use in two special connexions. It was used of the cult of a 
deity by his worshipper (cp. our objectionable use of the phrases 
" divine service/' " Sunday services "), or of a great man by his 
courtiers, and of the " tending " of men or animals by professionals 
such as physicians and grooms (the sense of the word from which 
Socrates developed his conception of the " tending of one's soul " 
as the supreme business of life). The problem is to determine in 
which, if either of these senses, religion is to be called the " service " 
of God. If we start with the second sense, that in which the pro- 
fessional trainer of hounds or oxherd may be said to " tend " or 
" serve " the hounds or oxen, we see that the aim of such tendance 
is always to make the " tended " better, to get the dogs or oxen 
into the pink of condition and keep them so. But we cannot 
suppose that religion is the service of God in this sense. No one 
would say that by performing his " religious duties " he " makes his 
gods better " (i^a-c) . We must mean " service " in the very different 
sense in which slaves are said to "serve " or " tend " their owner. 
Now the " service " of a slave consists in acting as an instrument 
or " understrapper " in carrying out his owner's business ; it is a 
form of VTTT; pcriKT/, " co-operating as a subordinate with a superior 
for the achievement of some result " (13^). 

Now we can say at once what the result to which the slave of a 
medical man contributes under his master's direction is ; it is the 
curing of the master's patients. So the slave of a builder contri- 
butes as a subordinate to the construction of a ship or a house. If, 
then, " serving God " means contributing as an underworker 
contributes to the business of his superior, if it is " co-operation 
as an instrument," what is the great work to which we contribute 
" under the gods " ? (130). (No answer is given to the question in 
our dialogue. None could be given by a man like Euthyphro who 
keeps his morality and his religion in separate " water-tight com- 
partments, "and Socrates naturally does not answer his own question. 
But it is not hard to discover from other dialogues what the Socratic 
answer would be. The great business of man, we kno.w, is to " tend " 


his own soul, and so far as he can the souls of all who come into 
contact with him, to " make them as good as possible." We shall 
find him, in the Phaedo and elsewhere, describing this course of life 
as " assimilation to God" (6/Woxns few). Thus we shall not go far 
wrong if we say that the " great and glorious work of God " is to be 
the source of order and good to the universe, and that we " contri- 
bute under God " to that work in the degree to which we bring 
order and good into the little " world " of our own personal life 
and that of the society to which we belong. Such an answer would, 
of course, presuppose the " unity of the virtues," and break down 
all barriers between the service of man and the service of God, 
morality and religion ; it would make irreligion a breach of morality 
and laxity of morals an offence against religion.) 

Euthyphro 's inability to follow the thought of Socrates throws 
him back on what had all along been his implied position, the position 
of the fanatic who divorces religion from morality. " If a man 
knows how to please the gods by his words of prayer and his acts 
of sacrifice that is religion, and that is what makes private families 
and public commonwealths prosperous " (14^). In briefer phrase, 
religion is " a science of sacrificing and praying " (140) . (Euthyphro, 
of course, takes the word " science " employed by Socrates to 
mean simply correct knowlege of the ritual to be observed.) Now 
in sacrificing we give something to the gods and in prayer we ask 
something from them. So we may finally put Euthyphro's thought 
into this definition (the fourth and last of the dialogue), "Religion 
is the science of asking the gods for things and giving things to 
them " (14^). Now the right way of asking will be to ask for what 
we really need, and the right way of giving will be to give the gods 
what they want of us, and thus religion turns out to be " an art of 
traffic between men and gods " (fjjuropiKYj r\vrj #eots K<U di/flpowrots 
vap dXA.7yXwj/, i^e). But traffic is, of course, a transaction between 
two parties for mutual advantages ; one " cannot be buyer and 
seller too." What one party to the traffic between gods and men 
gets out of the transaction is obvious ; the gods send us all the good 
things we enjoy. But what " advantage " (<o<cAi'a) do they get 
from us ? No " profit," says Euthyphro, but " honour and thanks 
and gratitude" (n^ r *a! ycpa KCU xapts, I 5 a )- "The religious 
act "thus turns out to be "that which is grateful (xcxapto-ftcVov) to 
the gods," and this brings us back to the very definition we have 
already had to reject, that " the religious " is TO rots 0ois <t'A.oi/, " what 
the gods approve " (150) ; so that we are no nearer knowing what 
religion is than when we began our discussion. 

As I have said, the gentle satire on the unworthy conception of 
religion as a trade-enterprise carried on by God and man for their 
mutual benefit ought not to blind us to the fact that the definition 
of it as knowing how to ask from God and how to make a return to 
Him is capable of being understood in a genuinely Socratic sense. 
The very introduction into this formula of cmon/fLi; as the genus 
of religion should indicate that it contains a suggestion we are 


meant to follow out. " Imitation," says the proverb, " is the 
sincerest form of flattery." And we may add that the " imitation 
of God " shown in a life devoted to the " tendance of the soul " is 
the one acceptable Tirf and the true thanksgiving for the goods we 
receive from God. So understood, the formula that religion is 
asking the right things from God and making the right return does 
not contradict but coincides with the other formula that it is co- 
operation as agents " under God " in a great and glorious " work." 

2. Apology. The Apology is too well known to require any 
elaborate analysis, though it must not be passed over without some 
remarks on points of general interest. Apart from its strictly 
historical interest as a professed faithful reproduction of the actual 
language of Socrates at the memorable trial, it has a philosophical 
interest as a picture of the life of " tendance of the soul " adopted 
with full consciousness and led at all costs to its appropriate and 
glorious end. What is depicted is the life of a " martyr " of the 
best type as seen from within by the martyr himself ; the object 
of the picture is to make us understand why the martyr chooses 
such a life and why the completion of his career by the martyr's 
death is a corona and not a " disaster." In our more commonplace 
moods we are accustomed to think of martyrdom as a highly dis- 
agreeable duty ; perhaps it must not be shirked, but we feel that, 
to be made tolerable to our imagination, it must be " made up " to 
the martyr by an " exaltation " to follow it. Plato means us 
rather to feel that the martyrdom is itself the " exaltation " : 
in cruce gaudium spiritus ; ambula ubi vis . . . non invenies 
altiorem mam supra, nee securiorem viam infra, nisi viam sanctae 
crucis. The Apology is the Hellenic counterpart of the second 
book of the Imitatio. 

For the considerations which make it certain that in substance 
Plato has preserved the actual speech of Socrates (which, as he lets 
us know, he himself heard), see Burnet's Introductory Note and the 
works referred to there. We must, of course, understand that, 
like all the circulated versions of celebrated speeches (those of 
Aeschines and Demosthenes in the matter of the " Crown," for 
example), the published speech is supposed to have been " revised " 
in accord with the canons of prose- writing. Plato has, no doubt, 
done for the defence of Socrates what men like Demosthenes did 
for their own speeches before they gave them to the world. At the 
same time we clearly have no right to assume that the process of 
revision and polishing involves any falsification of fundamental 
facts. That what we possess is in substance a record of what 
Socrates actually said is sufficiently proved by the single considera- 
tion that, though we cannot date the circulation of the Apology 
exactly, we can at least be sure that it must have been given to the 
world within a few years of the actual trial, and would thus be read 
by numbers of persons, including both devoted admirers of the 
philosopher and hostile critics (and presumably even some of the 
judges who had sat upon the case), who would at once detect any 


falsification of such recent facts. 1 It should also be added that 
even the subtle art by which Socrates, while professing to be a mere 
" layman " in forensic oratory, actually makes his speech conform 
to precedent in its general structure, an art most readily appreciated 
by following Burnet's careful analysis, is certainly not a mere 
stylistic " improvement " by Plato. The Gorgias and Phaedrus 
would be mere mystifications if it were not the fact that, for all 
his contempt for the ideals of contemporary " rhetoric/' Socrates 
was quite familiar with its recognized methods and principles. 
Indeed, the Apology might be said to afford an ironical illustration 
of the paradox of the Gorgias about the uses which may legitimately 
be made of rhetorical devices. Socrates is in the position of an 
accused party, and he makes a "defence " which has been felt from 
the time of Xenophon onward to be something very much like an 
avowal of guilt. This is exactly in accord with the principles of 
the Gorgias. Socrates is accused of an offence, and in the eyes of 
an average Athenian, though not in his own, he has done what 
amounts to the commission of that offence. Consequently he uses 
impressive eloquence, not to veil the facts but to put their reality 
in the clearest light. He is, and for many years has been, a " sus- 
pected character," and the whole " defence " consists in insisting 
on the point and explaining that the suspicion has been inevitable. 
Even the act of which an ordinary advocate would have made the 
most as evidence of " sound democratic sentiments/' Socrates' 
defiance of the order of the " Thirty " in the affair of Leon (Apol. 
32c-d), is deliberately introduced by a previous narrative of ap 
event of which such an advocate would have been careful to say 
nothing, or as little as possible, Socrates' opposition to the %xos 
at the trial of the Arginusae generals. Thus what might have been 
used by a man like Lysias to make an acquittal morally certain is 
actually employed by Socrates as an opportunity to warn the 
court that they must expect from him no sacrifice of conviction to 
"democratic sentiments." From the point of view of a Lysias, 
Socrates must have been " throwing away the ace of trumps " by 
using the story of his defiance of the Thirty as he does. 

The very singular historical circumstances of the trial of Socrates 
have been better explained in Professor Burnet's notes to his 
edition of the Apology and the chapter on the " Trial " in Greek 
Philosophy, Part I., than anywhere else. I shall therefore refer 
the reader to those works for full discussion, contenting myself with 
an indication of the points which seem most important. 

Though the actual prosecutor was Meletus, every one knew that 
the real instigator of the whole business was Anytus, one of the two 

1 In particular, it is quite unthinkable that Plato should have invented 
the few words, addressed to friends and supporters after the court had voted 
the penalty of death, with which the Apology closes. Modern writers, who 
think it " impossible " that Socrates should have spoken after sentence had 
been pronounced, are simply transferring the procedure of a modern European 
court of justice to the Athens of the fifth century. For the opportunity the 
case would give fpr the making of the remarks, see Burnet, Apology, p. 161. 


most admired and trusted leaders of the restored democracy. 
Since Anytus was in one and the same year assisting the prosecution 
of Socrates but helping the defence of Andocides on the very same 
charge of " irrelig^on," we cannot suppose motives of fanaticism 
to have had anything to do with his action. We may fairly suppose 
that what he attributed to Socrates was the " corruption of the 
young men/' and that this meant exercising an influence hostile 
to the temper of unquestioning loyalty to the democracy. That 
this crime, if it is a crime, was one of which Socrates was guilty can 
be proved from the Apology itself, where his capital point is that he 
is ready to encounter the hostility of the TrA^os or of any one else 
at the bidding of conscience. Such criticisms of the heroes of the 
old democracy as we read in the Gorgias and Meno are additional 
evidence, though, in fact, a " practical politician " like Anytus 
would need no evidence beyond the notorious intimacies between 
the philosopher and men like Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides. 
But there was a reason why Anytus could neither put his real case 
forward without disguise of some kind nor appear as the actual 
prosecutor, and this reason has rightly been insisted on by Burnet. 
The worst " offences " of Socrates had been committed under the 
old democracy and all open reference to them was banned by 
the Act of Oblivion forbidding all questioning of citizens for any- 
thing done before the archonship of Euclides. Anytus had himself 
been one of the foremost promoters of this Act and could therefore 
neither himself prosecute, nor instigate anyone else to prosecute, acts 
covered by this amnesty. It was necessary to put forward some 
further pretext for proceeding and to find a nominal prosecutor 
who would make the pretext the main charge in his indictment. 
This explains why, to judge from the Apology, the precise nature 
of the " corruption of the young " by Socrates was left so much in 
the dark that we only discover what is meant by reading rather 
carefully between the lines of the defence. It also explains the 
selection of " irreligion " as the accusation to be pressed home and 
of Meletus as the nominal prosecutor. Burnet is plainly right in 
holding that it is most improbable, since the name Meletus is a 
rare one, that there should have been two men of that name, one of 
whom prosecuted Socrates and another Andocides for the same 
offence in the same year. If, as is probable, the prosecutor in both 
cases was the same man, and the speech " against Andocides " 
preserved to us under the name of Lysias that delivered by Meletus 
in the prosecution of Andocides whether it is a composition of 
his own, or one written by Lysias to be spoken " in character/ 1 
we see at once why Meletus was selected. The speech against 
Andocides is that of a sincere but hopelessly crazy fanatic the 
very man to make the right sort of tool for a political intrigue just 
because he combines absolute honesty with the simplicity of a half- 
wit. Such a man would throw himself heart and soul into the 
prosecution of an impie, none the less effectively because, as is 
dear from the line taken by Socrates in his defence, neither he nor 


anyone else knew precisely what the " impiety " consisted in. 
(It is also worth notice that according to Andocides Meletus was 
one of the party who executed the illegal arrest of Leon, in which 
Socrates refused to be concerned, and thus, as a man who had 
contracted the pollution of <oVos, ought to have been in the dock 
himself on the very charge he was bringing against less guilty folk. 
That Socrates disdains to make a point of this is strictly in keeping 
with his character.) As to the meaning of the " impiety " charged 
against Socrates, all that we learn from the Apology is that Socrates 
regards it as having something to do with the caricatures of his 
earlier scientific pursuits in the Clouds and other comedies, where 
men of science in general are represented as having no respect for 
the gods of the current official worships. No doubt this statement 
is correct, as far as it goes, but there must have been something 
more behind the indictment of Socrates. The fact that Andocides 
was tried on the same charge about the same time for a ritual offence 
and found it necessary in his defence to go into the whole old 
scandal of the " mutilation of the Hermae " and the " profanation 
of the mysteries " seems, as Burnet has urged, to give us the key 
to the secret. Alcibiades and other prominent men among the 
associates of Socrates had been deeply implicated in the affair 
of the " mysteries," and this would, no doubt, be in the minds of all 
the judges. Socrates makes no allusion to the matter in his de- 
fence, but this only proves what we should expect from the whole 
tenour of his life, that, even in defending himself on a capital charge, 
he was scrupulous to observe the spirit of the law by which 
offences before the archonship of Euclides had been " amnestied." 
Meletus is likely to have been less cautious. 

We cannot well acquit Anytus of having stooped to instigate 
a proceeding in which he was ashamed to take the principal part, 
and of having used a tool whom he must have despised. But this 
is no more than has often been done by politicians who, as the 
world goes, are counted high-minded. His object was simply to 
frighten away from Athens a person whose influence he believed to 
be undesirable, much as Dutch William resorted to trickery to 
frighten King James out of England an act for which he is eulogized 
by Macaulay. Socrates might have preserved his life by going 
away before trial, as it was customary to do when there was any 
doubt about acquittal. Indeed Plato is careful to let us see that 
even when the case came into court, escape would have been easy. 
The verdict of guilty, even after the uncompromising speech of the 
accused had been delivered, was only obtained by a small majority. 
We may safely infer that an opposite verdict could pretty certainly 
have been secured by a little deference to popular opinion, a little 
adroit silence about one or two incidents and stress on others 
such as the excellent military record of the accused with a few 
words of regret for the past and promise of cautious behaviour in 
future. Even without any of this, it is clear that if Socrates had 
chosen to propose a moderate fine as a sufficient penalty, the offer 


would have been accepted. (Not to mention that he could readily 
have escaped during his unexpected month of detention in custody, 
and that public opinion would not have blamed him.) The accusers 
had no wish to have the guilt of any man's blood at their doors ; 
Socrates himself forced their hand. Without any desire for a 
martyrdom, they had created a situation in which there must in- 
evitably be one, unless the other party would compromise with his 
conscience, and a martyrdom Socrates determined they should 
have. This is what he means (Apology, 396) by saying that both 
sides must abide by their TI/A^/XCU Socrates holds in conscience 
that his conduct has been that of a public benefactor, his opponents 
that it amounts to crime worthy of death. They would like a 
confession from himself that their estimate is correct ; if by act or 
word he would admit this, they are willing not to inflict the penalty. 
They do not wish to inflict death, but they do wish for the ad- 
mission that it is deserved. // it is deserved, says Socrates, let it 
be inflicted ; you shall be compelled to " have the courage of your 
opinions. 11 

In dealing with the analysis of the Apology we have to start by 
understanding that the real and serious defence of Socrates, which 
is made to rest on his conviction of a special divine mission to his 
fellow-countrymen, does not begin until we reach page 280. What 
goes before (ApoL 170-270) is introductory matter, and is concerned 
with two preliminary points, the explanation of the prejudices 
which have grown up about Socrates (180-246), and a proof that 
the accuser himself cannot say, or at any rate dares not say, what 
he really means by his charges (246-270). Throughout the whole 
of the preliminary pages we must expect to find abundant traces of 
the whimsical humour which the enemies of Socrates in Plato call 
his " irony " ; at every turn we have to allow for the patent fact 
that he is " not wholly serious " ; the actual defence of his conduct 
through life, when we reach it, is pure earnest. (It is important 
to call attention to this, since the well-known narrative of the 
part played by the Delphic oracle in the life of the philosopher 
belongs to the preliminary account of the causes of the popular 
misconceptions about him, and has to be taken with the same 
allowance for his native humour as the account of the burlesques 
on him by the comic poets. The claim to be conscious of a special 
mission, imposed not by " the gods," nor by " Apollo/ 1 but " by 
God," comes from the actual defence. The two things have very 
little to do with one another, and are treated in very different 
tones ; nothing but misconception can come of the attempt to 
confuse them. Similarly the point of the " cross-examination " of 
Meletus has repeatedly been missed by commentators who have 
not seen that the whole passage is humorous, though with a humour 
which is deadly for its victim.) 

(a) Plea for an Impartial Hearing and Explanation of the Existing 
Prejudices unfavourable to the Speaker. The speech opens in a 
very usual way with an apology, mainly playful, for the speaker's 


unacquaintance with the diction of the courts, and a request to be 
allowed to tell his story in his own way (ija-i8d). The one piece 
of downright earnest in this exordium is the insistence that the 
supreme business of " oratory " is to tell the truth a business in 
which tb* speaker may claim to be more than a match for his 
accusers. Like every one who wishes for an impartial hearing, he is 
first bound to remove any prejudices the audience may have con- 
ceived against him. It will not be enough to deal with the attempts 
the prosecution has just made to create such prejudices ; there is 
a more inveterate prejudice dating from old days ; the judges who 
are to decide the case have heard long ago that Socrates is a " clever 
man " who " busies himself about things aloft and under the earth, 
and makes the weaker cause appear the stronger " the double 
accusation of being a physicist and being an " eristic, 1 ' which is, 
in fact, made in the Clouds of Aristophanes. " Intellectuals " of 
this type are popularly suspected of disregard of the gods ; the 
charges were made in comedies which many of the judges must have 
seen a quarter of a century ago, in boyhood, when impressions 
are easily made ; they have never received any rejoinder; what is 
more, they have been repeated since of malice prepense l by a host 
of anonymous slanderers, and it is these vague prejudices rather 
than the accusations of the present prosecutors that are likely to 
stand in the way of a fair trial (iSa-e). 

The sufficient answer to all this is that Socrates is not responsible 
for the nonsense he is made to talk in the Clouds. His judges them- 
selves must know whether they ever heard him discourse on such 
topics. But he is careful to add that he means no disparagement 
to knowledge of this kind ; if it exists. 2 Neither is it true that 
he has ever made a " profession " of " educating men " ; i.e. he 
is not one of the professional teachers of " goodness," though, 
again, he is far from disparaging so splendid a calling. If he 
really could " teach goodness," he says humorously, he would not, 
like Evenus, do it for a paltry five minae. He would know how 
se faire valoir (20 fc). 

How then has he got the name for being " clever " or " wise " ? 
Here comes in the well-known tale of the Delphic oracle and its 
response to Chaerephon, that no man living was wiser than Socrates. 
Socrates says that he was at first staggered by this pronouncement, 
and set to work to prove Apollo of Delphi never a persona grata at 
Athens, for excellent reasons a liar. With this view he went round 
looking for a wiser man than himself in the various sections of 
society. He began with the "statesmen/ 1 but soon found that 
though they fancied themselves very wise, they certainly had no 

Kal $taj8o\S, i Sd. It is implied that there was no real ill-feeling on 
the part of the comic poets who started these stories. They meant no more 
than fun. We can see for ouiselves that this is true of Aristophanes. 

2 Apol. IQC. As Burnet points out, loc. cit. % what is said here is quite in 
keeping with the representation of the Phaedo that Socrates was deeply in- 
terested in all these matters in early life, until he discovered that he " had no 
head for them " (an expression itself to be taken playfully). 


wisdom. Next he tried the poets with much the same result. He 
found that they were hopelessly incapable of explaining what they 
meant in their finest work ; this showed that the poet, like a 
possessed person, speaks under the influence of a genius and inspira- 
tion of which he is not master. 1 Finally, he turned to the artisans ; 
they were less disappointing than " statesmen " and poets, since 
it turned out that they did know something. They knew their 
own trades. Unfortunately they fancied that because they knew 
their trades, they must equally be competent to judge of the greatest 
questions (e.g., no doubt, as Burnet has said, how to govern an 
empire).* It seemed then as though the Delphic god was not 
lying after all ; he was merely speaking in riddles, the notorious 
trick of his trade. He meant to say that human wisdom is such a 
sorry affair that the wisest man is one who, like Socrates, knows 
that he does not know anything to boast of (Apol. 2oa-2$b). 

Naturally enough, the victims of this experiment did not take 
it any too kindly, and the matter was made worse by the young 
folk, sons of wealthy and leisured citizens, who accompanied 
Socrates, " without any pressing on his part " (avrd/xaroi, 230 ; i.e., 
they were not in any sense " pupils "), for the sport to be got out 
of the thing, and even tried to practise the trick themselves. Their 
victims, of course, complain that Socrates is the ruin of the young 
people. When they are asked how he ruins them, shame prevents 
the reply, " By exposing the ignorance of us older men,' 1 and so 
they fall back on the old charges against scientific men in general, 
the accusation of irreligion and " making the weaker case the 
stronger." The present prosecutors are the mere mouthpieces 
of this idle talk (230-246). 

(b) Direct Reply to Meletus. Socrates now turns to the charges 
actually brought against him by the prosecution, with which he 
deals very curtly. The humour of the situation is that the prose- 
cutor cannot venture to say what he means by either of his charges 
without betraying the fact that, owing to the " amnesty," the 
matters complained of are outside the competency of the court. 
What he really means by the " corruption of the young " is the 
supposed influence of Socrates on Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides, 
and others who have been false to the democracy ; the charge of 
irreligion is connected with the scandals of the year 415. But to 
admit this would be to invite the court to dismiss the case. Hence, 
when Meletus is pressed to explain what he means, he has to take 
refuge in puerile nonsense. The judges could understand the 
situation and, no doubt, enjoy it amazingly ; many modern com- 
mentators have been badly perplexed by the " sophistical " char- 
acter of Socrates' reasoning simply because they have not set them- 

1 As Burnet says, loc. cit. t Euripides would be about the first of the " trage- 
dians " to whom Socrates would apply his test. We have seen already that 
Socrates held the " modern " view of poetry as dependent on " inspiration." 

1 Compare Mr. Chesterton's mot about " the authority which obviously 
attaches to the views of an electrical engineer " on the existence of God or the 
immortality of the soul. 


selves to realize the difficulty of Meletus' position. They have 
missed the irony of Socrates' pretence that a prosecutor who is 
fanatically in earnest is merely playing a stupid practical joke. 

Meletus professes to have detected Socrates depraving the 
young. If he has, clearly he must be able to say who improve 
them. Under pressure, Meletus has to fall back on the view that 
any good Athenian improves the young by his association with 
them (because his influence is exerted in favour of the moral tradi- 
tion of society, exactly as we have found Anytus maintaining in the 
Meno, and shall find Protagoras explaining more at length in the 
dialogue called after him). Socrates stands alone in making young 
people worse by his influence on them (250). Now this is contrary 
to all analogy ; if you consider the case of horses or other domestic 
animals, you find that they are improved by only a few, the pro- 
fessionals who understand the art of training them ; they are 
spoiled when entrusted to anyone else. Moreover, a man must 
be very dull not to see that he would be acting very much against 
his own good by depraving the very persons among whom he has 
to live. No one would do such a thing on purpose (the Socratic 
doctrine that " no one does evil voluntarily "). If a man makes so 
grave an error involuntarily, the proper course is not to prosecute 
him but to open his eyes to his mistake. But Meletus, by prose- 
cuting Socrates, makes it clear that he thinks him capable of the 
absurdity of purposely trying to deprave the very persons whose 
depravity would expose him to risk of harm at their hands (250-266). 

Again, in what particular way does Socrates " deprave " his 
young friends ? No open allusion to the facts really meant being 
permissible, Meletus has to fall back on the reply that the de- 
pravation consists in incitement to the religious offence alleged in 
the indictment. Socrates sets the example of irreligion (266). This 
brings us to the consideration of this accusation on its own account. 
Socrates professes to be quite unable to understand what can be 
meant by the statement that he " does not worship the gods of 
the city but practises a strange religion. 1 If Meletus means any- 

1 As to this accusation, see Burnet, he. cit. It is quite certain on linguistic 
grounds that the meaning of the phrase that Socrates 01) po/tffec rods fleofo oDs 17 
7r6Xis yo/ilfei is that he does not conform to the cultus, does not " worship " 
the official gods, not that " he does not believe in their existence. 'V Aristoph- 
anes is punning on this sense of the word voidfav when he makes Socrates 
explain to Strepsiades that fyu? 6eol voiu<rfi ofl/c ftm ("the gods are not legal 
tender here "). It is certain also that in the additional clause re/>a 5 5at/*6i>ta 
jccupd, 8aip6vta is adjective, not substantive, and that the sense is therefore, 
" but practises certain other unfamiliar religious observances." The meaning 
of this is made clearer by comparison with the Clouds, where Socrates is 
represented as combining the functions of a scientific man with those of 
president of a conventicle of ascetics. It was true that the Ionian men of 
science used the word 0e6s in a wholly non-religious way for whatever they 
took to be the primary body (this is why in the Clouds Socrates swears by 
Respiration and Air, and prays to " the Clouds "), and also that Socrates was 
an associate of Orphic and Pythagorean ascetics, like Telauges in the dialogue 
of Aeschines called by that name, who had a religion of their own not 
officially recognized by the State. So far there is an intelligible basis for the 


thing, he must presumably mean that Socrates is an atheist. 
(Meletus does not really mean this, and Socrates knows that he 
does not mean it. But he cannot explain what he really means 
without risking the collapse of his case, and Socrates is fully entitled 
to embarrass him for his own and the court's amusement. He 
despises the charge too much to take it seriously.) If this is what 
he means, and he dares not explain that it is not, his charge refutes 
itself. A man cannot be both an atheist and the votary of a 
" strange religion " ; to make an accusation of this kind is simply 
wasting the time of the court 1 (260-270). 

(c) The Vindication of Socrates' Life and Conduct (280-35^. 
We come at last to Socrates' serious defence of his character, not 
against the frivolous charges on which he is being ostensibly tried 
but against grave misconceptions of old standing. He is well 
aware that his life is at stake, a thing which has happened to many 
a good man in the past and will happen again. But there is nothing 
dishonourable in such a situation. A man's part is to stand loyally, 
in the face of all risks, to the part which he has judged to be the best 
for himself, or to which his commander has ordered him. Socrates 
himself has acted on this principle in his military career, when his 
superior officers have commanded him to face dangers. Still 
more is it his duty to be loyal to the command of God which, as he 
is persuaded, has enjoined him to " spend his life in devotion to 
wisdom and in examining himself and his fellows " (280). The 
real atheism would be to disobey the divine command. Dis- 
obedience would be a known evil, but the death with which he is 
threatened if he does not disobey may, for all he knows, be the 
greatest of good. Hence if he were offered acquittal on the condi- 
tion of abandoning " philosophy," with certain death as the alter- 
native, he would refuse acquittal. For God is more to be obeyed 
than any human law-court. For that reason, so long as life is 
in him, Socrates will never cease urging on every man the duty of 
" care for wisdom and truth and the good of his soul " and the 
relative unimportance of care for health or fortune. That is God's 
commission to him, and if Athens only knew it, his " service " 
ia) 2 of God is the greatest 'blessing that could befall the 

reference to the Saiju.6via KO.IV&. But it is still unexplained what ground ther$ is 
for saying that Socrates does not worship the gods of the city, and it is this part 
of the charge on which Socrates fastens. It seems to me that Burnet is right 
in supposing that what is really meant is the old affair of the " profanation 
of the mysteries." The " psephismof Diopithes " has nothing to do with the 
matter. All " psephisms " before the year of Euclides were invalidated 
(Andocides i. 86). 

1 Formally, the argument is rather more elaborate. A man who concerns 
himself with rd dcu/iopta (the ** supernatural," as we might say) must believe 
that there are Salpove* (" supernatural beings ") ; these Sal/Movis are either 
themselves '* gods " or are the " offspring of gods," and in either case, a man 
who believes in them cannot be an atheist. This is pure persiflage, but it 
is as good as Meletus and his backer Anytus deserve. 

* Compare what has been already said in connexion with the Euthyphro 
about the conception of religion as serving God in the production of a irdyic aXw 
Socrates pleads that his whole life has been dedicated to this work. 


whole community (30*2). If he " corrupts the young " at all, it 
must be by preaching to them his unchanging conviction that 
"it is not wealth which makes worth (ager*?), but worth makes 
wealth and all else good." His present speech is not made to 
save his own life Anytus and Meletus may procure his death, but 
the really dreadful thing is not to lose your life but to take a life 
wrongfully (the thesis of the Gorgias) he would save his fellow- 
citizens from misusing the gift God has bestowed on them, and is 
not likely to give them a second time, a gadfly whose buzzing 
prevents that high-bred but somnolent animal "the People " from 
drowsy sloth (300-310). 

It may be asked why a man with such a mission has never 
attempted to act as a public monitor and adviser. 1 Well, the fact 
is that the " mysterious something " which has warned Socrates 
ali his life against " unlucky " proceedings has always checked any 
attempt to take part in public life. Et pour cause : a democracy 
(w\rj6os) soon puts an end to anyone who defies its humours in the 
cause of right. Hence it was a condition of the exercise of the 
mission that it should be exercised on individuals, not on the multi- 
tude (310-320). In fact, Socrates has only twice been called upon 
by his mission to come into conflict with authority, once when he 
withstood the popular sentiment by refusing to be accessory to the 
unconstitutional steps taken against the generals after Arginusae, 
and once, more recently, when he disregarded the illegal command 
of the " Thirty " to arrest Leon. In both cases he ran a great 
personal risk, and in the second, might well have lost his life but for 
the downfall of the " Thirty " (yza-e). As for the charge of de- 
moralizing his "pupils," he has never had any "pupils/ 1 though 
he has never refused to communicate his convictions freely to every 
one (33^-6) as his mission required of him. 2 He is ready to summon 
the parents and elder brothers of the young men who have associated 
with him as witnesses that none of them have been made worse 
by his companionship (33^-34^). 

The defence is now, in substance, concluded, and we have 
reached the point at which it was customary to make an appeal 

1 The implication is that a man of the remarkable gifts of Socrates, who 
carefully abstains from putting them openly at the service of the community, 
though he is believed to have employed them freely for the service of men 
like Alcibiades, must be a formidable anti-democratic conspirator. 

* Note that in denying that he ever had /xaflijra/, Socrates is still referring 
to the suspicion connected with his relations with prominent persons who 
ire now dead. From Isocrates xi. 3, we learn that the pamphleteer Polycrates 
made it a principal charge that Alcibiades had been Socrates* pupil, just as 
Aeschines the orator (i. 173) says the same thing about Critias. Isocrates 
relates that Alcibiades had never been " educated " by Socrates, thus agreeing 
with Plato and Xenophon (Mem. i. 2, 12 ff.). Socrates is too scrupulously 
observant of the " amnesty " to explain himself, but it is Alcibiades and 
Critias, not younger unknown men like Plato and Aeschines of Sphettus, 
whom he means by his supposed " disciples." The reference to the " divine 
sign " at 3ic is playful, like other allusions of the kind in Plato. The real 
reason why Socrates took no part in active politics is the one he goes on to 
give, that he knew the hopelessness of such an attempt 


to the clemency of the court for the sake of one's family and 
connexions. Socrates declines to follow the usual course, not 
because he has not dependents, friends, and relatives to whom 
he is bound by natural ties, but because the procedure would 
be unworthy of his character and an attempt to seduce the 
court from its duty. That would be a real " impiety. 11 The 
issue must now be left in the hands of God and the judges 

The object of the pages which follow (360-386) is to explain why 
Socrates did not, after conviction, secure his life by proposing a 
moderate fine as an alternative penalty, as he clearly could have 
done. This must have been felt as a real difficulty by common- 
place persons even among the philosopher's friends, as we see 
from the absurd explanation given by Xenophon (Apol. 1-8) 
that Socrates deliberately provoked his own execution in order to 
escape the infirmities of old age. It has to be explained that his 
real motive was a worthy one. To propose any penalty whatever 
would amount to admitting guilt, and Socrates has already told 
the court that he regards himself as a minister of God for good to 
his countrymen. Hence he cannot in consistency propose any 
treatment for himself but that of a distinguished public benefactor, 
a place at the public table (o-tV^o-ts cV Trpvrai/ei'w). It should be noted 
that, strictly speaking, this is the TWO-IS which Socrates offers as an 
alternative to the death-penalty demanded by the accusers. The 
whimsical mood has returned on him after the intense earnestness 
of the defence of his life and character. He urges that as he regards 
himself as a benefactor he can only propose the treatment of a 
benefactor for himself. The subsequent offer to pay the trifling 
sum of a mina (only raised to one of thirty minae at the urgent 
instance of friends) is made with the full certainty that the court, 
which has just heard Socrates' real opinion of his deserts, will 
reject it. The real issue is not whether a prophet of righteousness 
is a major or a minor offender, but whether he is. a capital traitor 
or the one true " patriot," and Socrates is determined that the court 
shall not shirk that issue, as it would like to do. (As to the sum of 
thirty minae which Socrates' friends offer to pay for him, one should 
note (a) that in Epistle xiii. Plato, writing a generation later, mentions 
it to Dionysius II as a good dowry for anyone but a very rich man 
to give his daughter and that this estimate is borne out by a careful 
examination of all the references to dowries in the fourth-century 
orators, (b) that, though Plato and Apollodorus are joined with 
Crito as " security," the main burden of payment would, no doubt, 
fall on the wealthy Crito. The family of Plato are not likely to 
have been particularly well off just after the failure of the revolu- 
tion in which its most prominent members had taken the losing 
side. 1 As we see from the speeches of Lysias belonging to this 

1 Cf. what Xenophon makes Charmides say about his own finances at 
Symp. 29 fi., where there seems to be an (anachronistic) allusion to the effects 
of the " Decelean " war. 


period, the downfall of Athens in 404 had been followed by a wide- 
spread commercial crisis. Socrates' friends are making what, in 
the circumstances, must have been a very strenuous effort to save 
him. This is why they " ask for time " instead of offering to pay 
money down. 1 ) 

In the concluding remarks of the speech made after the voting 
on the penalty, note in the first place how clearly it is recognized 
that Socrates has forced the issue, and that he could have secured 
his acquittal by simply " asking for quarter" (38^-396). This is, 
of course, true of every typical martyr. Martyrdom is dying when 
you could escape if you would compromise a little with your con- 
science ; in this sense every martyr forces the issue. Anytus would 
rather not have killed Socrates, just as the average Roman pro- 
consul would rather not have condemned Christians, or as Bonner 
(as appears even from the partial accounts of his enemies) would 
much rather not have sent Protestants to the stake. But it is not 
the business of the martyr to make things easy for the forcer of 

In the impressive words of encouragement directed to his 
supporters (39^-410), the important thing to note is that, contrary 
to the absurd opinion of many nineteenth-century writers, Socrates 
makes his own belief in a blessed life to come for the good perfectly 
plain. The best proof of this is that to which Burnet has appealed, 
comparison of his language with the brief and hesitating phrases 
in which the Attic orators are accustomed to allude to the state of 
the departed. In this respect the Apology agrees completely with 
the Phaedo, when we allow for the fact that in the former Socrates 
is speaking to a large audience, most of whom would not share his 
personal faith. No one but a convinced believer would have said 
half what he is made to say about his " hope " (not to mention 
that the " divinity " of the soul is at bottom the reason why the 
" tendance " of it is so much more important than that of the body, 
and, as Rohde long ago observed, to the Greek mind " immortality " 
and "divinity" are equivalents). The specific allusions of 410. 
to Hesiod, Musaeus, Orpheus and the Orphic judges of the dead, 
also make it clear that Socrates' convictions are not meant as 
simply inferences from " natural theology " ; we have to see in 
them the influence of the Orphic religion, though the Euthyphro 
and the second book of the Republic show that Socrates thought 
very poorly of the ordinary run of " professing " Orphics in his 
own time. 

3. Crito. The Euthyphro and Apology between them have made 
us understand what Socrates meant by religion, and why his sense 
of duty to God forbade him either to evade prosecution or to pur- 
chase his life by any concessions. There is still one question 
connected with his death to which the answer remains to be given. 
Owing to unexpected circumstances, a month elapsed between 

1 This is implied in the mention of " security " (ai/rol 5' tyyva<r0at, 386). 
Socrates could clearly have paid down the " one mina " of which be had spoken. 


condemnation and execution. His friends took advantage of this 
delay to provide means of escape ; Socrates might still have avoided 
drinking the hemlock if he would have walked out of his prison, but 
he refused. Why was this ? No one would have thought the 
worse of him, and there would have been no question of a compro- 
mise with the leaders of the democracy. Persons who held with 
Socrates himself that the whole proceedings against him had been 
frivolous, and that he had been condemned for an offence which he 
had not committed, by a court which had no competence, might 
fairly be puzzled to know why he thought it a duty to refuse the 
means of escape. This is the point to be cleared up in the 
Crito. The explanation depends on an important distinction which 
the ordinary man to this day finds it hard to draw. The 
condemnation was in point of fact, as Socrates himself insisted, 
iniquitous. He was quite innocent of any real impiety. But it 
was strictly legal, as it had been pronounced by a legitimate court 
after a trial conducted in accord with all the forms of law. And it 
is the duty of a good citizen to submit to a legal verdict, even when 
it is materially false. By standing a trial at all, a man " puts 
himself on his country, 1 ' and he is not entitled to disregard the 
decision to which he submits himself, even if his country makes a 
mistake. The " country " is entitled to expect that the legally 
pronounced sentence of a legitimate court shall be carried into effect ; 
there would be an end of all " law and order " if a private man were 
at liberty to disregard the judgment of the courts whenever he 
personally believed it to be contrary to fact. 

Even so, there is a further point to be considered. We have 
seen that, strictly speaking, the court was not competent to take 
account of the offences which the prosecutors really had in mind, 
and that Socrates shows himself aware of this in the Apology when 
he cross-examines Meletus. It might, then, be urged that if Socrates 
had escaped he would not have been disregarding the decision of a 
competent court ; is it wrong to disrespect the sentence of an in- 
competent one ? Two things need to be remembered : (a) the 
court thought itself competent, and Athenian law made no provision 
for the quashing of its findings as ultra vires ; (b) this being so, 
for an individual man who had all his life set the example of strict 
and complete compliance with the vopoi of the city to follow his 
private judgment on the question of the competency of the court 
would have been to stultify the professions of a lifetime. Plato 
himself, in the same situation, Adam says, would probably have 
chosen to escape. This may be, but the second consideration just 
mentioned would not have applied to Plato in 399. A young man 
of under thirty, whose most important relatives had just four years 
before lost their lives in the cause of " oligarchy/ 1 could not be 
considered as having thrown in his lot definitely with the demo- 
cracy and its vo/xot ; his position would have been really different 
from that of an old man of the Periclean age. The argument, used 
by Socrates, that to have neglected the opportunity to settle else- 


where is equivalent to a compact to live by the fo'/zos of the city, 
would have been inapplicable to a younger man who, in fact, had 
never had the option in question. Thus, in the last resort, there 
is a " subjective " and personal element in the considerations 
which lead Socrates to feel that he would be belying his whole past 
by escaping. Plato's object is not to lay down a categorical im- 
perative for the guidance of all the wrongfully condemned, but to 
throw light on the motives of an individual great man. (Whether 
Plato would himself have chosen to escape, if he had been placed in 
the same situation in his own seventieth year, is another question. 
Much would depend on his view as to the work which might re- 
main to him to do elsewhere.) 

The dramatic mise-en-scene is necessarily exceedingly simple. 
The conversation is tete-d-tete between Socrates in his apartment in 
the prison of the Eleven and Crito, unless we count the " Laws " 
into whose mouths the last word of the argument is put as an 
unseen third party to the talk. The time is in the " small hours " 
before dawn, while it is still dark. Crito, who brings the news that 
the " sacred vessel " on whose return Socrates will have to die 
has just been sighted off Sunium, has been some time watching 
Socrates as he sleeps, when Socrates wakes from a strange dream 
and the conversation ensues. Crito fears that Socrates, whose 
sentence will be executed the day after the vessel reaches port, 
has only one more night to live ; Socrates, on the strength of his 
dream, expects, as turned out to be the fact, that the boat will not 
make so quick a voyage and that his death will be deferred another 
day. (In his interpretation he evidently takes the " fair and 
comely woman " of 440 for the " fetch " of the approaching vessel, 
and her " white garments " for its gay white sails.) This brief 
introduction leads straight to the conversation in which Crito puts 
the case for escape, to which Socrates replies point for point. 
(a) The friends of Socrates will suffer in reputation if he persists 
in dying. It will be supposed that they were too mean to find 
the money necessary for corrupting his jailers. The answer is that 
" decent folk " will know better than to think anything of the sort, 
and what the " many " think does not matter (44^). (b) Un- 
fortunately it does matter what the " many " think. The power 
of popular prejudice is shown only too plainly by the present posi- 
tion of Socrates himself. Answer : the " many " are powerless 
to do much in the way of either good or ill, for they can neither 
make a man wise nor make him a fool ; hence it matters very little 
what they do to him (44^). (c) Perhaps Socrates is really thinking 
of the interests of his friends, who will be exposed to " blackmailers " 
(<rvKo<t>dvTai) l if he breaks prison, and be forced to pay these persons 
to hold their tongues. He need not consider that point ; his 
friends are in duty bound to take the risk and, besides, these worthies 

against the " public.*' 


are not very expensive to satisfy. If Socrates has a delicacy about 
exposing Crito to the risk, his "foreign" friends, Simmias, Cebet>, 
and others, are ready to open their purses (450-6) - 1 He need have 
no difficulty in finding an abode where he will be made welcome. 
Crito himself has relations with powerful men in Thessaly who 
would honour his friend and act as his protectors (45^) (d) Besides, 
it is not even morally right that Socrates should throw away his 
life. That would be gratifying the very men who have prosecuted 
him. Also it would be deserting his family, and an honourable 
man has no right to disregard his obligations to his children. Thus 
refusal to escape will look like a display of unmanly cowardice in 
both Socrates and his friends (450-460). 

Socrates begins his formal reply by saying that all through life 
it has been his principle to act on his deliberate judgment of good. 
He cannot feel that the judgments he expressed in his defence 
before the court are in any way affected by the result of the trial. 
If he is to take Crito's advice, he must first be convinced that there 
is something unsound in these principles ; it is useless to work on 
his imagination by setting up bugbears. The strength of Crito's 
case all through has lain in the appeal to " what will be thought 
of us." Now formerly we both held that it is not every opinion 
nor the opinions of every man which matter. Socrates is still of 
the same mind about this, and so, as he has to confess, is Crito. 
We should attach weight to the opinion of those who know (the 
<t>p6vifjioi), and disregard the opinion of those who do not. For 
example, in the matter of bodily regimen the physician and the 
trainer are the experts who know, and their approval or disapproval 
ought to count, whereas a man who followed by preference the 
approvals and disapprovals of the " many," who are laymen in 
such matters, would certainly suffer for it in bodily health. The 
same principle applies to matters of right and wrong, good and bad, 
such as the question we are now considering, whether it will be 
right or good for Socrates to break prison. We have not to take 
into account the opinions of the " many," but those of the one 
expert, if there is such a man, by neglecting whose advice we shall 
injure " that which is made better by right but depraved by wrong." 
(That is, the soul ; the argument is from the standing analogy 
between health in the body and moral goodness in the soul.) 

Further, we agree that if a man has ruined his physical con- 
stitution by following the opinions of the " many " and disre- 
garding those of the medical expert, life with a ruined physique 

1 The point is that " aliens " would run no risks from the o 
because they could get out of Attic territory in a few hours. The purpose for 
which Simmias is said to have brought money at 456 4 is not to appease the 
ffVKofdrrcu, from whom a Theban could suffer no trouble. From the Phaedo, 
Simmias appears to have spent the month between the trial and death of 
Socrates at Athens, but this need not exclude a journey to Thebes to procure 
money to pay the warders who were to connive at Socrates' escape. Hence, 
as I now see, I was wrong in my Varia Socratica in supposing that Meletus is 
one of the persons meant by the reference to blackmailers. 


is not worth preserving. But " that in us, whatever it is, in which 
wickedness and righteousness have their seat " is not less but more 
precious than the body. (Much less, then, is life worth preserving 
if this that is, the soul is vitiated.) Crito has therefore raised a 
wrong question. We ought to ask not what '* the many " will 
think of Socrates 1 behaviour or that of his friends, but what will 
be thought by the man who " understands " right and wrong. 
True, the " many " can put you to death if you disagree with them ; 
but then another principle which both Socrates and Crito hold 
as strongly since the recent trial as before it is that the all-important 
thing is not to live but to live a good life, and that living a good life 
means the same thing as living aright (&Kcua>s). The real question 
to be answered then is, " Would it be right for me to take my leave 
of this place without a public discharge ? " All the other considera- 
tions which Crito has raised are irrelevant (466-48^). 

Again, we both still retain our old conviction that to commit 
a wrong is, in all conditions, a bad thing for the man who commits 
it (the thesis of the Gorgias). It follows that we must hold, con- 
trary to the opinion of the " many/' that a man must never repay 
wrong by retaliatory wrong (avTa8u<v), and therefore that we 
must never repay ill-treatment by ill-treatment (avrtKaKovpytiv 
KCIKWS TTuVxovTa). In a word, no treatment received from another 
ever justifies wronging him or treating him ill, though this is a 
conviction so opposed to the code of the " many/' that those who 
accept and those who reject it cannot even discuss a problem of 
practice with one another (OVK CO-TI KOIVJJ ftovX^, 49^). Socrates 
and Crito can only discuss the course Socrates is to adopt because 
they agree about this initial principle (490-2). 

Next, ought a man, on these principles, to keep his word when 
he has given it (assuming that what he has promised to do is in se 
morally right), 1 or may he break- it ? Of course, he must keep it. 
Our immediate problem, then, reduces to this. If Socrates leaves 
the prison without a public discharge, will he, or will he not, be 
wronging the very party whom he ought to be most careful not to 
wrong ? Will he be keeping a right and lawful pledge, or will he be 
violating it ? Let us consider what the Laws, or the State, might 
have to say if they could take us in the act of " making our lucky " 
(/xcXXovo-iv d7ro8i8pao-Kiv). This appeal to the personified figure 
of the State or the Laws is, as Burnet says, in principle a Platonic 
" myth/' Its function is the same as that played in other dialogues 
by the vision of the Judgment to come. That is, it does not carry 
the argument further, but brings it home powerfully to the imagina- 
tion. Artistically the function of the picture is to evoke a mood of 
ideal feeling adequate to the elevation of the ethical demands of 

6vTa, 490. This is inserted to exclude a promise to do what is 
impermissum in se. Socrates' view is that a promise to do what is in itself 
illicit is null and void. But we see in the sequel that the tacit " compact " 
by which Socrates is pledged to the rfaoi or writ of Athens involves 
nothing but what is strictly licitum. 


Socraticism on the conscience, to arouse unconditional " reverence " 
for the dignity of the moral law as that which demands and justifies 
the philosopher's martyrdom. So far, and no further, it acts as 
the sight of the Crucifix does on a Christian. The conception of 
society implied, as something too obvious to need explanation, is 
the same which underlies all the versions of the doctrine of " social 
contract," a doctrine naturally familiar to the members of a society 
which knew from its own experience how legislation is made. But 
it gives us the fundamental truth of the theory of " contract " un- 
contaminated with any element of historical error about the first 
origins of " society/' The thought is that a man who has cast in 
his lot with the community by accepting its " social system " all 
through life has tacitly bound himself to support the organization 
on which the social order depends, and cannot in honour go back 
from his pledge for the sake of his personal convenience. This is 
what is really meant by the much-misrepresented doctrine of 
" passive obedience," and it is interesting to remark that Socrates 
thus combines in himself the " nonconformist's " reverence for 
" conscience " and the " non-juror's " reverence for the " powers 
that be." He is the one absolutely consistent " conscientious 
objector" of history, because, unlike most such " objectors," he 
respects the conscience of TO KOWQV as well as his own. 

The Laws might complain that Socrates would by an Evasion 
be breaking his own " compact," and that without the excuse that 
the compact had been made under duress, or obtained by false 
representation or without sufficient time for consideration. 1 He has 
had a life of seventy years for reflection and in all this time has 
never attempted to adopt a new domicile, but has absented himself 
less than almost any other citizen from Athens. Thus he cannot 
plead any of the recognized excuses for regarding his assent to live 
under the laws of the city as anything but free and deliberate. 
(Of course the meaning is not that Socrates could have been 
" naturalized " in some other community ; but he might have 
chosen to live as a resident alien under the protection of another 
society, or as a colonist at e.g. Amphipolis or Thurii.) The whole 
course of his life bears silent witness that he has accepted the 
system of institutions into which he had been born, and it is an 
integral part of the system that an Athenian citizen shall respect 
the decisions of the duly constituted courts. He is not at 
liberty to reject the jurisdiction because in his own opinion the 
decision of a court does him a material wrong (SQC). To run 
away to escape the execution of the court's sentence would be 
following up the exalted speeches he made before the judges by 
the conduct of the paltriest of eloping slaves. If he does break 
his " compact," what good can he expect to accrue to his connexions 
or himself ? His family and friends will certainly run the risk of 

1 Force majeure, fraudulent misrepresentation, insufficient time for con- 
sideration, are thus recognized as the three conditions which might, severally 
or conjointly, make a promise void. 


banishment or loss of property. As for himself, suppose he makes 
his escape to a neighbouring city such as Thebes or Megara, which 
have good institutions, and where, as we know, he would find warm 
friends, he must be looked on by all honest citizens as an enemy, 
who has defied one society and may be expected to do the same by 
another, and thus will fairly be under the suspicion of being a 
" corrupt er " of the young who may associate with him. If, to 
avoid such reproach, he takes refuge in a disorderly and lawless 
community, what kind of life does he propose to lead ? For very 
shame, he cannot continue his professions of devotion to " goodness 
and law " with his own conduct staring him in the face. Even in 
so lawless a society as that of Thessaly, he might for a while live 
under the protection of Crito's connexions there, and they might 
find the story of his successful escape from prison an excellent joke, 
but he must expect to hear the painful truth about his behaviour 
as soon as he offends anyone. Even if he escapes that disgrace 
by making himself a general toady, his life will be that of a 
" trencherman " and parasite, and what will become of all his 
fine professions about right and goodness ? As for the final appeal 
which Crito had made to his parental affections, what good will 
such an existence do to his children ? Does he propose to bring 
them up as hangers-on in Thessaly ? If they are to grow up as 
free men and citizens at Athens, will his friends neglect them more 
because he has removed to the other world than they would if he 
had removed to Thessaly ? Besides, the plea will be useless when 
life is over at last and a man has to stand before the judges of the 
dead. If Socrates abides execution now, he will have a good defence 
before that tribunal. He will appear as an innocent victim of the 
injustice not of law, but of individuals who have abused law for 
his destruction. 1 If he does not, he will have to answer for having 
done what lay in him to shake the authority of law itself, and must 
expect to have the law itself against him in the next world as well 
as in this. It is this appeal which rings in the ears of Socrates and 
makes him deaf to the voice of Crito, nor can Crito find anything 
to set against it. We must, therefore, be content to follow the 
path along which God is leading us (500-540). 
See further : 

BURNETT. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito. (Oxford, 1924.) 

RIDDELL. Apology of Plato. (Oxford, 1867.) 

BURNET. Early Greek Philosophy, Part /., Chapter IX. 180-192. 

RITTER, C.Platon, i. 363-390. 

RITTER, C.Sokrates. (Tubingen, 1931-) 

TAYLOR, A. E. Socrates. (London, 1932.) 

1 546. This is, in fact, the fundamental distinction on which Socrates 
founds his whole argument. When a man is legally but wrongly convicted 
of an offence he has not committed, the wrong is inflicted not by the law, but 
by the persons who have misused the law. Anytus, not the law, has done 
Socrates a wrong. But the prison-breaker is doing what he can to make the 
whole social system ineffective. His conduct is a direct challenge to the 
authority of law itself. 


WE are now to consider the group of four great dialogues 
which exhibit Plato's dramatic art at its ripest perfection. 
It may fairly be presumed that they all belong to one and 
the same period of his development as a writer, a view borne out 
by a cautious and sane use of the available " stylometric " evidence. 
Outwardly they have all the same form, that of a conversation 
supposed to have taken place before a numerous audience and 
subsequently described either by Socrates himself (Protagoras, 
Republic), or by one of the original auditors (Phaedo, Symposium). 
We have already found Plato using this difficult literary form for 
comparatively short dialogues (e.g. Charmides, Euthydemus), but it 
is a more arduous task to keep it up successfully throughout a work 
of considerable compass ; as we have seen, in the dialogues which 
there is other reason for thinking later than the Republic, it is only 
adopted once (in the Parmenides), and there is a formal explanation 
of its abandonment in the Theaetetus. This is good reason for 
thinking that Plato's great achievements in this kind belong neither 
to his more youthful nor to his later period of literary activity, but 
to his prime of maturity as a writer (which need not, of course, 
coincide with his ripest maturity as a thinker). I do not think there 
is any satisfactory method of dating the four dialogues themselves 
in the order of their composition. We may reasonably presume 
that the Republic, as the work of greatest range and compass among 
them, must have taken longest to write, and was the last to be 
completed. It also contains what looks like a concealed reference 
to the Phaedo (Rep. 6116 10), though the fact is by no means 
certain. 1 Now there is one consideration which perhaps allows 
us to fix an approximate date in Plato's life for the writing of the 
Republic. In Ep. vii. 3266, where Plato is describing the state of 
mind in which he paid his first visit to Italy and Sicily, he says that 
he had been driven to state, in a eulogy of genuine philosophy 
(cVcuvwv TTJV opOrjv <t>i\o<ro<t>(av) , that humanity will never escape 
its sufferings until either true philosophers occupy political office 

1 The ' other arguments " (AXXoi \6yoi) for immortality referred to in 
passing may mean those which Plato's readers would know from the Phaedo, 
but they may equally well mean those which readers of Socratic literature 
would know to be current among Orphics or Pythagoreans generally. Thut 
the words cannot be pressed as an argument for the priority of the Phaedo, 



or political " rulers," by some happy providence, turn to philo- 
sophy. It seems impossible not to take this as a direct allusion to 
Republic vi. 4996, where the same thing is said, almost in the same 
words, as part of a " eulogy " of true philosophy. Since Plato 
also says (Ep. vii. 3240) that he was about forty years old at the 
time of his voyage, this seems to give us 387 B.C. as an approximate 
date for the writing of the Republic, or, at least, of its central and 
most difficult section, and we are led to think of his dramatic 
activity, culminating in the four great " reported dialogues," as 
marking the late thirties of his life. Beyond this, so far as I can 
see, we have no means of going. We cannot tell, for example, 
whether the Phaedo is earlier or later than the Symposium, or either 
earlier or later than the Protagoras. My own reason for taking the 
Phaedo before the other two is simply that it connects outwardly 
with the events of Socrates' last day, and consequently illustrates 
the same side of his thought and character as the three dialogues 
we have just examined. 

As in the case of these three dialogues, I must be content to a 
considerable extent to refer my reader to Professor Burnet's com- 
mentary for treatment of details. The scene of the conversation 
is laid at Phlius, where Phaedo of Elis, apparently on his way home 
from Athens, relates the story of the last hours of Socrates to a 
party of Phliasian admirers of the philosopher who have not yet 
had any account of the details. The one member of this party who 
is named is Echecrates, independently known to us as a Pythagorean. 
Hence Burnet is probably not far wrong in supposing the story to 
be told in the " meeting-house " of the local Pythagoreans. The 
surroundings will thus harmonize with the general tone of the con- 
versation, in which the two principal interlocutors are also pupils 
of an eminent Pythagorean, Philolaus. It should be noted that 
these two speakers, Simmias and Cebes, are both represented as 
young, and that they evidently belong to the group of Pythagoreans 
in whom the religious side of the original movement has been com- 
pletely overshadowed by the scientific. It is Socrates who has to 
recall them to the very conceptions which are at the root of Pytha- 
gorean religion, and persuade them that their scientific " develop- 
ments " are inconsistent with the foundations of that religion. We 
need also to be alive in reading the Phaedo to two important facts 
which are sometimes forgotten. One is that Socrates himself is 
very careful to qualify his assent to the main tenet of the Orphic 
and Pythagorean faith, the deathlessness of the soul, by cautious 
reserve as to the details of the eschatology in which that faith has 
found expression. He is sure that he will leave this world to be 
with God ; he is very far from sure about the rest of the Orphic 
scheme of rewards and punishments. The other is that we. must 
not take the Phaedo by itself for a complete expression of the whole 
spirit of Socraticism. It sets Socrates before us in the last hours 
of his life, and dwells on just the side of his thought and character 
which would be sure to be most prominent in the given situation, 


but we should misconceive his doctrine if we did not integrate the 
picture of the Phaedo with such a representation of the philosopher 
in the midst of life as we get, for example, in the Protagoras, where 
the underlying body of doctrine is identical but the situation wholly 
different and the emphasis correspondingly different. Probably 
the directest way to an understanding of the influence and per- 
sonality of Socrates would be to read and meditate these two great 
dialogues together, interpreting each in the light of the other. (It 
is worth observing that Aristotle seems to have done something of 
the kind. His views about the philosophy of Socrates as a whole 
seem to be derived chiefly from the Phaedo ; when he has occasion, 
in his own Ethics, to discuss the Socratic theses about the conduct 
of life, it is demonstrable that the unnamed source of his informa- 
tion is primarily the Protagoras.) 

There can be no doubt that Plato intends the reader to take the 
dialogue as an accurate record of the way in which Socrates spent 
his last hours on earth, and the topics on which he spoke with his 
intimate friends in the face of imminent death. This is indicated, 
for example, by the care shown to give a full list of the names of 
the persons present. Most of these were probably still living when 
the Phaedo was circulated ; it is quite certain that this was the case 
with some of them, e.g. Euclides and Terpsion, who, as we see from 
the Theaetetus, were still alive and active thirty years later ; Phaedo, 
the actual narrator, who is represented in the dialogue as still a 
mere lad; Aeschines of Sphettus, and others. Though Plato is 
careful to mention and account for his own absence, it is quite 
certain that he must have been fully informed of the facts, since 
the statement that he spent some time after the death of Socrates 
with Euclides and Terpsion at Megara comes to us on the excellent 
authority of his own pupil Hermodorus. We are therefore bound 
to accept his account of Socrates' conduct and conversation on the 
last day of his life as in all essentials historical, unless we are willing 
to suppose him capable of a conscious and deliberate misrepresenta- 
tion recognizable as such by the very persons whom he indicates as 
the sources of his narrative. This supposition is to my own mind 
quite incredible, and I shall therefore simply dismiss it, referring 
the reader who wishes for discussion of it to the full Introduction 
to Burnet's edition of the dialogue. 

The purpose of the dialogue is not quite accurately described 
by calling it a discourse on the " immortality of the soul." To us 
this suggests that the main object of the reasoning is to prove the 
soul's endless survival, and nothing more. But to the Greek mind 
aOavaa-ia or a<t>0apcria regularly signified much the same thing as 
" divinity," and included the conception of ingenerability as well 
as of indestructibility. Accordingly, the arguments of the dialogue, 
whatever their worth may be, aim at showing that our souls never 
began to be quite as much as at proving that they will never cease 
to be. But neither of these positions is the main point of the 
reasoning. The subject of the dialogue is better indicated by the 


name used by Plato himself in Ep. xiii. 3630, where it is said to be 
" the discourse of Socrates about the ^vxy." The immediate and 
principal object of the whole conversation is the justification of the 
life of " tendance of the soul " by insisting on the divinity of the 
human soul, and on " imitation of God " as the right and reasonable 
rule of conduct ; the immunity of the soul from death is a mere 
consequence, though an important consequence, of this inherent 
divinity. The argument is, in the proper sense of the phrase, a moral 
one ; the worth and dignity of the soul afford reasonable grounds 
for hoping that death is, to a good man, entrance on a better life, 
an " adventure " which he may face with good comfort the 
summary of the whole matter given by Socrates himself at 114^-1150. 

A possible misconception which would be fatal to a real under- 
standing of the dialogue is to look upon the members of the series 
of arguments for immortality as so many independent substantive 
" proofs," given by the author or the speaker as all having the same 
inherent value. Any careful study will show that they are meant 
to form a series of " aggressions " to the solution of a problem, each 
requiring and leading up to the completer answer which follows it. 
In particular, Plato is careful, by skilful use of dramatic by-play 
and pauses in the conversation, to let us see what he regards as the 
critical points in the argument. These pauses are principally two, 
that which occurs at S&c-Sga, where the narrative is interrupted 
by a short dialogue between Phaedo and Echecrates, and 950-1000, 
where Socrates relates the story of his early difficulties with the 
physical " philosophy " of Empedocles, Diogenes, and others. It is 
evidently meant that the two outstanding difficulties which must 
be faced by the philosophical defender of the doctrine of immortality 
are the " epiphenomenalist " theory of consciousness and the 
" mechanical theory of nature/ 1 the one represented for us in the 
Phaedo by the " objection " of Simmias, and the other by that of 

As I shall point out later on, Plato himself in the Laws specifies 
just these theories as being at the root of all irreligious philo- 
sophizing, and it would still be true to say that to-day they con- 
stitute the speculative basis for most of the current denials of human 
immortality. We are thus directed to find in the Phaedo a state- 
ment of the position of Socrates on these two perennial issues ; for 
Plato's own personal attitude towards them we need to look primarily 
to the express refutation of the " unbeliever " in the tenth book of 
the Laws. The background presupposed in one refutation is the 
science of the fifth century, that of the other is the Academic science 
of the fourth, but both agree in the assertions (a) that mental life 
is not the effect of bodily causes, and that physical reality itself 
" coming into being and passing out of being " is not explicable 
in purely mechanical terms. This apart from the impressive 
picture of the fortitude of the true philosopher in the moment of 
death is the main lesson of the Phaedo. 

The immortal narrative must be passed over in the present 


connexion with just one word. It may not be superfluous to 
associate ourselves with Burnet 's protest against the absurd charge 
of " hardness " as a husband which has been brought against 
the dying Socrates. It is clear that his wife and infant son are 
supposed to have spent the last night of his life with him in the 
prison. They are conducted home at the opening of the discourse 
(6oa) for the reason at which Socrates himself hints later on (117$), 
because Xanthippe is, naturally enough, on the verge of a " nervous 
breakdown," and Socrates desires to spare both her and himself. 
The children and the "ladies of the family " reappear again at the 
end (n6b) for a final interview in the presence of no witness but 
Crito, the oldest friend of the family, and we are expressly told that 
the interview was a lengthy one. Phaedo cannot describe this 
eminently private scene, because he had not witnessed it, but it is 
the mere fact that he was not present which has given rise to mis- 
understanding (assisted, perhaps, by the incapacity of modern 
sentimentalists to understand the reticence of all great art). 


The main issue of the dialogue is made to emerge in a simple 
and natural way from the remark of Socrates that the genuine 
" philosopher " is one who is ready and willing to die, though he 
would regard it as " criminal " to put an end to his own life (6ic). 
(That is, he trusts that death is the entrance on a better state, 
but holds that we may not force the door ; we must wait for it 
to be opened to us in God's good time. The Pythagorean origin of 
the absolute veto on suicide is indicated by the allusion to Philolaus 
at 6id.) This may seem a paradox, but it is intelligible if we con- 
ceive of man as a " chattel " (KT^O) of God, just as a slave is a 
" chattel " of his owner, and therefore has no right to dispose of 
his own life, as it does not belong to him. Socrates would not like 
to commit himself entirely to the Orphic dogma that while we are 
in the body we are "in ward/' i.e. undergoing penal servitude for 
ante-natal sin, but he thinks it at least adumbrates this truth that 
" we men are chattels of the gods" (626), l and therefore may not 
dispose of ourselves as we please. (The kind of K-HJ/xa (" chattel ") 
meant is clearly a 8ouXos, who is, as Roman lawyers put it, in the 

1 For the doctrine in question see in particular the important fragment of 
Clearchus the Peripatetic quoted by Burnet loc. cit. I think it clear that the 
(ppovpd means " house of detention," not " post of military duty." To the 
passages making for the former interpretation quoted by Burnet add Plutarch, 
de sera numinis vindicta, 554^. The diroSi&pdffKetv of 626 5 exactly suits a 
prisoner " breaking prison," but not a sentry leaving his post, for which we 
should need ai/ro^oXftV. Socrates' refusal to commit himself to the " mystical " 
dogma is important. It makes it clear a t the start that, in spite of all ap- 
pearances to the contrary, it is no part of the object of the dialogue to prove 
" pre-existence " and " transmigration. " 


dominium of his owner and therefore has no " proprietary rigfyt " 
in his own body.) Yet in saying this we seem to be merely replacing 
one paradox by another. If we are the " chattels " of the gods, 
that means that we are under the " tendance " of good and wise 
owners who know what is best for us much better than we do our- 
selves. Death would seem to mean being released from this 
tendance and left to look after ourselves. Surely a wise man 
would think such an emancipatio a thing to be dreaded (exactly, 
that is, as a shrewd slave would be very unwilling to be "freed" 
from a first-rate owner and left to fend for himself (62^)). The 
paradox would be a very real one if Socrates were not convinced 
that after death one will equally be under the care of good and wise 
gods, and perhaps though of this he is not equally sure (630) in 
the company of the best men of the past. This is the faith (cAm's) 
which gives him courage to face death, and he will try to impart 
it to his friends. Thus the thing to be proved is primarily not the 
" natural immortality " of the soul. A proof of immortality, 
taken by itself, would not be adequate ground for facing death in 
a hopeful spirit. It would be quite consistent with holding that 
we only leave this world to find ourselves in a much worse one. 
What is really to be proved, if possible, is that " the souls of the 
just are in the hand of God " after death as much as before. 
Socrates, like all great religious teachers, rests his hopes for the 
unseen future in the last resort on the goodness of God, not on the 
natural imperishability of the human ^v^r/. (So in the Timaeus 
faa-b), it is the goodness of the Creator's will which guarantees the 
immortality even of the "created gods," i.e. the stars.) What 
is to be shown, in fact, is that the faith and hope with which the 
" philosopher " faces death is the logical consequence and supreme 
affirmation of the principles by which he has regulated his whole 
life. To lose faith when, you come to die would be to contradict 
the whole tenour of your past life ; for, though the world may not 
know it, the life of " philosophy " itself is nothing but one long 
"rehearsal 1 * (/ucAen?) l of dying (640). Possibly, indeed, the 
" world " would say that it does know this well enough ; it knows 
very well that " philosophers " are " morbid " creatures who are 
only half alive, and that it serves them right to eliminate them 
(a plain allusion to the Aristophanic caricature of the ^/oovrurrat as 

1 Not " meditation " of death. /ueXlrii means the repeated practice by 
which we prepare ourselves for a performance. It is used of the " practising " 
of a man training for an athletic contest, and again of the " learning by heart " 
of such a thing as a speech which you have procured from a \oyoypd<f>os and 
want to have " perfect " when the time for deliverance comes. No doubt, 
then, it was also the word for an actor's " study " of his " part." (Cf. ripttition 
as used of the rehearsals of a play or a symphony in French.) The thought is 
thus that " death " is like a play for which the philosopher's life has been a 
daily rehearsal. His business is to be perfect in his part when the curtain 
goes up. Note that, as Burnet says (Phaedo, 646 3 n., E.G.Ph.*, 278 n. i), it is 
implied throughout the argument that " philosophy " has the special sense, 
which is clearly Pythagorean, of devotion to science as a way to the salvation 
of the soul. 


living " ghosts "). Only the world is mistaken on one small point ; 
it does not understand the sense in which the philosopher uses the 
word " death, ".and that is what we must explain (64^. It is all 
the more necessary to attend to the explanation that it is really the 
key to the whole of the Phaedo, and that its significance has been 
often misapprehended by both admirers and critics down to our 
own time as completely as by the (5?]/iog of Thebes or Athens. 1 

To put the matter quite simply, death, as every one under- 
stands, is the " release " of the soul from the body ; in other 
words, it is the achievement of the soul's independence. Now 
we can see that what the philosopher has been aiming at all his 
life long is just to make the soul, as completely as he can, inde- 
pendent of the fortunes of the body. We can see this from the 
following considerations: (a) The philosopher sets no great store 
on the gratifications of physical appetite, and disregards the 
" tendance of the body " in general (fine clothes and foppery) 
" beyond what is needful." 2 What he " tends " is the soul, and 
that is why the " mass of men " think him as good as a ghost or 
corpse (640-65^). (b) In his pursuit of knowledge he finds the 
limitations of the body a hindrance to him in more ways than one, 
and is always doing his best to escape them. He soon discovers 
the grossness and untrustworthiness of our senses, even of the two 
most acute of them, sight and hearing, and tries to arrive at truth 
more accurate and certain than any which the evidence of sense 
could furnish. This is why he trusts to thinking rather than to 
sense ; but in thinking the soul is independent of the body in a 
way in which she is not independent in sensation. (This is, of course, 
strictly true. Socrates would probably be thinking primarily 
of the danger of trusting to a " figure " in mathematics, a danger 
which will be mentioned a little further on. It is equally true that, 
even in our own times, when the scientific man is so abundantly 
supplied with " instruments of precision," we have always to allow 
for a margin of unknown error in all conclusions depending on data 
derived from sense-perception ; absolute accuracy and certainty 
can only be obtained, if at all, in " pure " science which makes 
no appeal to sense, even for its data.) So pleasurable or painful 
excitement derived from the body also gravely interferes with the 
prosecution of truth. (One is hampered in one's scientific work 
when one's head aches or one's liver is out of order.) (c) The 
supreme objects of our studies, " the right," " the good," " the 
beautiful," " figure," " health," in short, the " reality " (oucrt'a) 
investigated by any science is always something which none of the 

1 Socrates' point is that to use the language of Christian mystics the 
" world " confuses a dying life with a living death. The " philosopher " is 
out for " dying into life " ; the world thinks he is making his existence a 
death in life, but it is really the worldling who is " dead while he lives." 

1 64*. Kaff foot ^ TroXXi) dvAyicr) avr&v. This is inserted to show that 
Socrates has no sympathy with the gratuitous slovenliness of persons like the 
Telauges of A esc bines' dialogue or his own companion Antisthenes. He does 
not regard " dirt " as a mark of godliness. 


senses perceives, and the less we depend on any of them the less, 
that is, we substitute " sensing " for " thinking " in our science 
the nearer we come to apprehending the object we are really study- 
ing (6^d-66a). 1 Having all these considerations in mind, we may 
fairly take a " short cut " (aiy)cwros) to the conclusion that so long 
as we have the body with us it will always be a hindrance to the 
apprehension of " reality " (TO dA^flcs) as it is. At the best we lose 
much valuable time by being obliged to take care of the body. 
If it gets out of condition, our quest of " the real " (TO ov) is even 
more hindered. Bodily wants and the passions connected with 
them which, incidentally, are the causes of business and war, 
the two great occupations of the " active life " leave us hardly 
any opportunity or leisure for the pursuit of knowledge. And even 
in the scanty time we are able to devote to the things of the mind, 
the body and its needs are constantly " turning up " and diverting 
our attention. Thus the man who is really " in love with know- 
ledge " must confess that his heart's desire is either only to be 
won after death, when the soul has achieved her independence of 
her troublesome partner, or not at all. While we are in the body, 
we make the nearest approach to our supreme good just in propor- 
tion as we accomplish the concentration of the soul on herself and 
the detachment of her attention from the body, waiting patiently 
until God sees fit to complete the deliverance for us. When that 
happens, we may hope, having become unmixed and undiluted 
intelligence, to apprehend undiluted reality. Meanwhile the life 
of thinking itself is a progressive purifying of intelligence from the 
alien element and a concentration of it on itself. The philosopher 
is the only type of man who makes it the business of his life to 
accomplish this purgation and concentration and so to win spiritual 
independence. This is why we may call his life a " rehearsal of 
death," and why unwillingness to complete the process would be 
ridiculous in him (66c-686). The conception set before us in these 
pages is manifestly the Hellenic counterpart of the " mystical way " 
of Christianity. The underlying ideas of both conceptions are 

1 That is, the object studied by any science is always what Socrates calls 
an eTSos or I6ta, though the technical term is not yet introduced. It is 
important to note the immediate and emphatic assent of Simmias to this 
statement (65^). He is clearly supposed to have learned all about the matter 
from his Pythagorean teachers. The examples are taken from ethics (SLxaiov, 
dya&6v t Ka\6v), mathematics (ptycOos), medicine (vyleta, texts)- Of course you 
can see pcytOrj, but it is quite true that you cannot see ftfryeOot. So you 
can see or draw approximately elliptical lines, but you cannot even approxi- 
mately draw " the general conic " or " the curve of the third order." If you did 
try to draw them and relied on some characteristic of your figure as a property 
of the curve on no better evidence than that of your eyes, you would soon 
be led into error about the " reality " you are investigating. A thorough 
empiricist would have to go to much wilder extremes. He would, for example, 
have to hold that it is quite uncertain whether, if you only went on counting 
long enough, you might not come on two odd integers without an even one 
between them, or on a highest prime number, or even on an integer which is 
neither odd nor even. These things are actually maintained by some empiri- 
cist mathematicians, but they would be the death of ^a 


that there is a supreme good for man which, from its very nature, 
cannot be enjoyed " in this life." The best life is therefore one 
which is directed to fitting ourselves for the full fruition of this 
" eternal " good beyond the limits of our temporal existence. 
In both cases this means that the highest life for man while on 
earth is a " dying life," a process of putting off the old man with 
the affections and the lusts and becoming a " new creature." 
The constant presence of this aim makes the life of devotion to 
science, as conceived by Socrates and his friends, a genuine via 
crucis. And they, like the Christian mystics, conceive of the best 
life as one of contemplation, not of action. The ultimate aim of 
the " philosopher " is not to do things, but to enjoy the vision of a 
reality to which he grows like as he looks upon it, the ideal already 
expressed in the apologue of the " three lives " popularly ascribed 
to Pythagoras. We must be careful, however, to guard ourselves 
against two insidious misconceptions. For all the stress laid on 
" purification " of the mind from contact with the body, we must 
not suppose that Socrates is thinking of a life of mere negative 

The whole point of the insistence on unremitting preoccupation 
with thinking as the philosophic form of " purgation " is that the 
object of the renunciation of the philosopher is to make his life 
richer ; by " purification " from external preoccupations, his 
intelligence becomes more and more intense and concentrated, 
just as, e.g., alcohol becomes more potent the more nearly your 
specimen is " pure " alcohol. Nor must one suppose that the 
contemplative life, because it is not directed ultimately on action, 
is one of indolence or laziness. Socrates, who claims in our dialogue 
to have spent his whole life " in philosophy/' was busy from morning 
to night with his " mission." Probably, when we remember the 
way in which Plato in the seventh Epistle insists on the political 
character of his own original ambitions and on his lifelong con- 
viction that the business of the philosopher among men is to be a 
statesman, we may infer that he would not himself at any time 
have subscribed to the doctrine of the vita contemplativa without 
a great deal of cxplanat ion and reservation. Even the Pythagoreans 
who formulated the doctrine had stood alone among the scientific 
schools in playing an important part, as a society, in the politics 
of the early fifth century. They only became a merely scientific 
society when their political activities had been crushed by revolu- 
tion. But it may well be that the ablest men of action feel even 
more strongly than the rest of us that the " conduct of business," 
the carrying on of commerce, governing, and fighting cannot be 
its own justification. To be everlastingly " meddling " seems an 
end not worthy the dignity of human nature ; at bottom we all 
want not to do something but to be something. To make " doing 
things " your ultimate object is merely to take " Fidgety Phil who 
couldn't keep still" as your model of manly excellence. It has 
been said with truth that the great "practical reforms" which 


have proved of lasting value have mostly been the work of men 
whose hearts were all the time set on something different. 

If a man, then, plays the craven when death comes, we may be 
sure he is no true "lover of wisdom," but a " lover of the body/' 
which is as much as to say a man whose heart is set on wealth 
(a <iAoxpi7/xaT09) or on " honours " (a $iA<m/xos), or both at once 
(68c. This direct allusion to the Pythagorean " three lives " is, 
of course, intentional.) On the other hand, the philosopher will be 
marked by eminent courage and eminent " temperance " in the 
popular sense in which the word means control over one's physical 
appetites. In fact, when we come to reflect, there is something 
paradoxical about the courage and temperance of the rest of man- 
kind. They are courageous in the face of danger because courage 
serves to protect them against death, which they fear as the worst 
of evils. Thus their very valour is rooted in a sort of cowardice. 
(As an Indian says of the English in one of Kipling's tales, "they 
are not afraid to be kicked, but they are afraid to die.") And the 
decent (icoayuoi) among them keep their lusts in hand because they 
think they will get more pleasure by doing so than by giving way, 
so that " slavery to pleasure " is the source of what they call their 
" temperance." But the truth is that real virtue is not a business 
of exchanging pleasures and pains against one another. Wisdom 
is the true " coin of the realm " for which everything else must be 
exchanged, and it is only when accompanied by it that our so- 
called " virtues " are genuine goodness (a\r)0r)s aptrrj). Without 
it, the kind of goodness which is based on the " calculus of pleasure 
and pain " is no more than a painted show (a-KLaypa^ta) . l The 
Orphic saying is that " many carry the narthex but few are real 
paKxoi," and we might apply tin's to our purpose by taking the 
"real J&IKXOS," who genuinely feels the "god within," to mean the 
true philosopher. Of these chosen few Socrates has all his life 
tried to become one ; with what success he may know better in a 
few hours (686-69*). 2 


In substance, what has gone before contains Socrates' vindica- 
tion of his attitude in the face of death. But, as Simmias remarks, 
the whole vindication has tacitly assumed that there is an here- 
after. Now most men find it very hard to believe that the soul 

1 690 6-c 3. On the text and grammar of this sentence, which have 
undergone much corruption, see Burnet, loc. cit., where it is also pointed out 
that <TKiaypa<f>ta does not mean an " imperfect outline," but a stage-painting in 
which, e.g.> a flat surface is made to look like the fa9ade of a temple. The 
point is not that " vulgar " goodness is " imperfect " but that it is illusory. 

8 In this context Socrates' claim can hardly be understood to mean less 
than that he had been a " follower of the way." We cannot well believe 
that Plato invented this, still less that he had anything to do with " the way " 


is not " dispersed like smoke " when a man dies, and Simmias 
shares their difficulty. To complete his " case " Socrates must 
therefore satisfy us that the soul continues to be, and to be intelli- 
gent after the death of the "man." Accordingly he now proceeds 
to produce three considerations which point to that conclusion. 
It is not said that they are demonstrative. Simmias had asked 
only for TTI'OTIS (conviction), not for demonstration, and Socrates 
professes no more than to consider whether immortality is " likely " 
(ei/cds) or not. In point of fact, the first two proofs are found to 
break down and the third, as Burnet observes, is said by Socrates 
(10766) to need fuller examination. Thus it is plain that Plato 
did not mean to present the arguments as absolutely probative to 
his own mind. The argument he does find convincing and develops 
at great length in the Laws is put briefly into the mouth of Socrates 
in the Phaednis, but no mention is made of it here. 1 

(a) THE FIRST ARGUMENT (700-77^. This argument itself 
falls into two parts, a (yoc-y2e) and ft (720-77^ ; the two have to 
be considered in conjunction to make anything which can be called 
a proof, and what they go to prove is not " immortality " but 
merely that the soul continues to be " something " after death. 
It is not simply annihilated. This, of course, is only the first step 
to establishing what is really in question, the persistence of in- 
telligence beyond the grave. 

(a) First Reason for holding that the Soul is not simply anni- 
hilated at Death (700-720) . There is an ancient doctrine (it is, 
in fact, Orphic) of rebirth, according to which a soul which is born 
into this world is one which has come back from " another world " 
to which men go at death. This, if true, would establish our point. 
To look at the matter from a more general point of view, we see 
that the world is made up of " opposites " (eVavria) such as hot, 
cold ; great, small ; good, bad. Now if a thing " becomes bigger " it 
must have first been " smaller," if it becomes hotter it must have 
been cooler, if it becomes " better " it must have been " worse/' 
and so on. So we may say universally that whatever comes to be, 
comes to be " out of its opposite/' and that to correspond to each 
pair^of opposites, there are two antithetical processes of " becom- 
ing." Hot and cold are opposites, and similarly there are the two 
processes of contrasted sense, " becoming hotter," " becoming 

1 It is the argument from the " self-moving " character of the soul 
( Phaedrus, 245^ 5-2460 2, Laws, x. 8936 6-896^ 4). Why is nothing said of this 
argument in the Phaedo ? It has been suggested that the reason is that the 
argument is an invention of Plato's own and that he had not thought of 
it when he wrote the Phaedo. I do not think this likely, since the argument is 
really in principle that of Alcmaeon of Crotona, and is thus much older than 
Socrates (Aristotle, de Anima, A2. 4053 30), I should suggest a different 
explanation. The argument starts from the reality of motion. But this 
would have been denied by the Eleatic Eu elides and Terpsion, and Socrates 
wishes to base his reasoning on premisses his company will admit. We 
must remember also that Euclides and his friend were very probably the 
persons from whom Plato derived most of his knowledge of the last hours of 


cooler." All this will apply to the case of life and death. Being 
alive and being dead are opposites, just as being awake and being 
asleep are. And we have agreed that everything comes to be 
" out of its opposite/' The living must come from the dead, and 
the dead from the living, and thus here, as elsewhere, there will be 
two opposed processes, corresponding to the two opposed condi- 
tions of being alive and being dead. We see and have a name for 
one of these processes, that by which a living being becomes dead ; 
we call it dying. But there must, on our principle, also be an 
antithetic process of " coming to life " which terminates in actual 
birth. In fact, if the whole process were not cyclical, life would 
ultimately perish, and there would be only a dead universe left. 
Thus the drift of the argument is simply to confirm the " ancient 
doctrine " of rebirth by showing that it is only one case of the 
universal natural law of cyclical " recurrence/ 1 The illustrations 
from the alternation of sleep and waking seem to show that Socrates 
is thinking primarily of the way in which this " law of exchange " 
had been assumed as the fundamental principle of the philosophy 
of Heraclitus, with whom death and life, sleeping and waking, 
are explicitly co-ordinated (Her. Fr. 64, 77, 123, Bywater). But 
the general conception of the world as made up of " opposites " 
which are generated " out of one another " was, of course, a common- 
place of the earliest Greek physical science (cf. Burnet, E.G.Ph. 3 , 
p. 8). Socrates' Pythagorean auditors, in particular, would be at 
once reminded of their own table of " opposites " by reasoning of 
this kind. 

(It is easy to see that the reasoning is neither cogent nor, if it 
were, probative of what we want to prove. As Aristotle was after- 
wards to explain more fully, the whole conception of the generation 
of opposite " out of " opposite is vitiated by an ambiguity in the 
phrase " out of." A thing which grows cool has previously been 
warmer, but it is not true that " heat " is a stuff or matter out of 
which " cold " is made. In Aristotelian language, the thing which 
grows cool has lost the " form " of " the hot " and acquired the 
" form " of the cold ; the original " form " has not itself been made 
into an " opposite " form. Again, it is simply assumed, without 
warrant, that cyclical alternation is the universal law of all pro- 
cesses. To us there is no absurdity in the view that living organisms 
should finally vanish, or that differences of temperature should 
cease to exist. If the " principle of Carnot " could be taken to 
be true without any restriction, we should have to regard these 
consequences as inevitable. For the purposes of Socrates, however, 
it is sufficient that the reasoning should be based on assumptions 
which would be granted as common ground by his audience ; it 
is not necessary that they should be admitted by anyone else. 
Still, even when his assumptions are granted, nothing follows so 
far beyond the bare admission that the soul which has passed from 
this world to the other, and will, in turn, come back from the other 
world to this, has some sort of reality in the interval ; it has not 


become a mere nothing. To admit so much would, of course, be 
compatible with the crudest kind of materialism, and would do 
nothing to justify the conviction Socrates means to defend, the 
belief that the soul which has won its independence has passed to 
a " better " life. 1 Hence the necessity for a combination of this 
line of reasoning with that which is next introduced.) 

(ft) The Argument from the Doctrine of Reminiscence (720-77^. 
Cebes observes that we might have reached our conclusion, in- 
dependently of the doctrine of recurrence, by arguing from Socrates* 
habitual position that what we call " learning " a truth is really 
being " put in mind " of something we had forgotten. If this is 
true, we must at one time have known all that in this life we have 
to be " reminded " of. Our souls must have existed " before we 
were men/' and presumably therefore may continue to exist when 
we have ceased to be men. (This argument, if sound, brings us 
nearer to the conclusion we want, since it goes to prove that the 
soul not only was " something " but was fully intelligent before it 
had been conjoined with the body.) The main argument for this 
doctrine of reminiscence, we are told, is the one already considered 
in the Meno, that a man can be made to give the true solution of a 
problem by merely asking him appropriate questions, as we see 
particularly in the case of problems of geometry. 2 The answer is 
produced from within, not communicated by the questioner. 

1 Note that Socrates himself in the end throws over the principle of universal 
cyclical recurrence. His " hope " is that the final destiny of the righteous 
soul is to be with the gods and to live endlessly " apart from the body " 
(114^). This would be a swallowing up of death by life just as impossible on 
the principle of recurrence as the universal reign of death. He is, in fact, 
borrowing from two pre-philosophical traditions, that of endless " reincarna- 
tion " and that of the soul as a fallen divinity destined to regain its forfeited 
place among the gods. These traditions are not really concordant with one 
another, and it is the second which really represents his personal faith. 

* dv rts M rA Si.aypdiuiij.ara ayy (736) may mean literally " if one shows the 
man a diagram," but since dtaypd^ara sometimes means simply " geometrical 
proofs " (e.g. Xenophon, Mem. iv. 7, 3, where the Svo-ffvvera diaypd/mpaTa seem 
to mean simply " intricate demonstrations "), probably we should not press 
the literal sense of the word here. It is an interesting point that though 
Cebes knows all about the doctrine and attaches importance to it, Simmias, 
who appears later on as having gone further than Cebes in dropping the 
religious side of Pythagoreanism, has forgotten it. I think we may infer two 
things from the passage, (a) The doctrine of reminiscence was not originated 
by either Socrates or Plato, since Cebes knows both what it is and what is the 
recognized " proof " of it. It is presumably a piece of old Pythagoreanism 
which the " advanced " members of the school had dropped or were dropping 
by the end of the fifth century. (This explains why we never hear anything 
about it in Plato's later writings.) (6) I suggest that the connexion with 
immortality comes about in this way. To judge from the Orphic plates found 
at Thurii and elsewhere, the original idea was that what the soul has to be 
reminded of is her divine origin and the dangers she will have to surmount 
on her way back to the abode of the gods. The Orphic plates are, in fact, 
buried with the votaries to serve them as a kind of Baedeker's guide. The 
conversion of this piece of primitive theology into a theory of the a priori 
character of mathematics will be part of the spiritualization of old theological 
traditions due to the mathematician-saint Pythagoras. 


Hence the answerer is plainly in possession of the truth which the 
questioner elicits. Socrates points out that the conclusion might 
be reached by a simple consideration of what we call " association." 
When you see an article belonging to an intimate friend, you not 
only see the article, but think of the owner, and that is what we 
mean by saying that the coat or whatever it is, " reminds " us 
of its owner (" association by Contiguity "). Again, when you 
see a portrait, you think of or " are reminded " of the original 
(" association by Resemblance "). Thus you may be " reminded " 
of something both by what is unlike it (" Contiguity ") and by what 
is like it (" Resemblance "). In the second case we also note whether 
the likeness is complete or not (e.g. whether the portrait is a good 
one or a bad one). 

Well, then, let us consider a precisely parallel case. In mathe- 
matics we are constantly talking about " equality " not the equality 
of one stone to another stone, or of one wooden rod to another 
wooden rod, but of the " just equal " (avro TO to-ov), which is neither 
wood nor stone and we know that we mean something by this talk. 
But what has put the thought of the " just equal " into our minds ? 
The sight of equal or unequal sticks, or something of the kind. And 
we note two things, (a) The " just equal " is something different 
from a stick or a stone which is equal to another stick or stone ; 
we see the sticks or stones, we do not see " mathematical equality." 
(b) And the so-called equal sticks or stones we do see are not exactly, 
but only approximately, equal. (Even with instruments of pre- 
cision we cannot measure a length without having to allow for a 
margin of error.) Thus plainly the objects about which the mathe- 
matician reasons are not perceived by the eye or the hand ; the 
thought of them is suggested to him by the imperfect approximations 
he sees and touches, and this suggestion of B by A is exactly what 
we mean by " being reminded of B by A." But A cannot remind 
us of B unless we have already been acquainted with B. Now from 
the dawn of our life here, our senses have always been thus " remind- 
ing us " of something which is not directly perceptible by sense 
(i.e. perception has always carried with it estimation by an " ideal " 
standard). Hence our acquaintance with the standards themselves 
must go back to a time before our sensations began, i.e. to a time 
before our birth. We have argued the case with special reference 
to the objects studied by the mathematician, but it applies equally 
to all other "ideal standards/' like those of ethics, the good, the 
right ; in fact, to everything which Socrates and his friends called a 
" form." The only alternative to supposing that we had ante- 
natal acquaintance with these " forms " would be to say that we 
acquired it at the moment of birth. But this is absurd, since we 
are quite agreed that we bring none of this knowledge into the 
world with us ; we have to recover it slowly enough from the hints 
and suggestions of the senses. We conclude then that if " the 
kind of being we are always talking about," that is the " forms," 
exist, and if they are the standard by which we interpret all our 


sensations, it must be equally true that our souls also existed and 
were actively intelligent before our birth (?6d-e). (One should 
note several things about the way in which the doctrine of the 
" forms " is introduced into this argument. For one thing, we 
see that there is no room in the theory for " innate ideas " in the 
strict sense of the word, and that there is no question of a knowledge 
acquired independently of experience. The whole point of the 
argument is that we should never be " put in mind " of the " forms/' 
but for the suggestion of the senses. Again, the most important 
feature of the process of " being reminded " is that sense-per- 
ceptions suggest standards to which they do not themselves con- 
form. The same visual sensations which suggest the notion 
" straight " to me, for example, are the foundation of the judgment 
that no visible stick is perfectly straight. The " form " is thus 
never contained in, or presented by, the sensible experience which 
suggests it. Like the " limit " of an infinite series, it is approxi- 
mated but never reached. These two considerations, taken together, 
show that the theory does full justice to both parts of the Kantian 
dictum that " percepts without concepts are blind, concepts without 
percepts are empty. 11 1 We may also note, as Burnet has done, 
that the stress laid on the point that the sensible thing always falls 
short of a complete realization of the " form " means that sensible 
things are being treated as " imitations " (fjn^ara) of the 
" form/' a view we know from Aristotle to have been Pythagorean. 
It is quite untrue to say that the " imitation " formula only appears 
in Plato's latest dialogues as an improvement on his earlier formula 
of " participation." In the Phaedo itself Socrates starts with the 
conception of things as " imitating " forms ; " participation " 
will only turn up at a later stage in the argument.) 

Simmias is particularly delighted with this argument precisely 
because, as he says, it proves the ante-natal existence of the soul 
to be a consequence of the doctrine of Forms, and that he regards 
as the most clear and evident of all truths (770). (This delight, 
by the way, would be quite unintelligible on the theory that the 
doctrine was an invention of Plato.) But, as he goes on to say 
after a moment's reflection, to prove that the soul " arose " before 
our birth is not to prove that it will survive death, and it is against 
the fear of death that Socrates has to provide an antidote. 
Formally, as Socrates says, the point would be established if we 
take arguments (a) and (J3) together, (ft) has proved the pre- 

1 It is very important to remember that on the theory there are no " forms " 
except those which sense-experience suggests, or, to use the language which 
will meet us later in the dialogue, there are no " forms " which are not " partici- 
pated in " by sensible particulars. The " forms " are not Kantian " things 
in themselves." But equally the " form " is not " the sensible thing rightly 
understood," for the first fact you discover about any sensible thing, when 
you begin to understand it, is, in Socrates' phrase, that "this thing is trying 
(oCXrrcu) to be so-and-so, but not succeeding" (74^). This implies a " real- 
istic " metaphysic ; from the point of view of " nominalism/' " terminalism," 
or " conceptuaiism," the whole doctrine is nonsense. 


existence of the soul, (a) will prove on the assumption that the 
alternate cycle of birth and death is endless that the souls of the 
dead must continue to exist in order that men may continue to be 
born. But the " child in us " which is afraid of the dark is not 
to be quieted so readily, and we must try the effect of a more potent 
" charm " on him (jja-j8b). 

argument goes much more to the root of the question, since it is 
based not on any current general philosophical formula, but on 
consideration of the intrinsic character of a soul. In Aristotelian 
language, the first proof has been " logical/' the second is to be 
" physical." The reasoning adopted lies at the bottom of all the 
familiar arguments of later metaphysicians who deduce the im- 
mortality of the soul from its alleged character as a " simple sub- 
stance," the " paralogism " attacked by Kant in the Critique oj 
Pure Reason. The " proof," as Kant knew it from the writings of 
men like Wolff and Moses Mendelssohn, is a mere ghost of that 
offered in the Phaedo. Socrates' point is not that the soul is a 
" simple substance," he had not so much as the language in which 
to say such a thing but that it is, as the Orphic religion had taught, 
something divine. Its " deiformity," not its indivisibility, is what 
he is anxious to establish ; the indivisibility is a mere consequence. 
Hence he is not affected by Kant's true observation that discerption 
is not the only way in which a soul might perish. No doubt it 
might perish, as Kant said, by a steady diminution of the intensity 
of its vitality, if it were not divine, 1 but what is divine in its own 
nature is in no more danger of evanescence than of discerption. 

Simmias had spoken of the possible "dissipation "of the soul 
at death. Now what sort of thing is liable to dissipation and what 
not ? Obviously it is the composite which, by its own nature, is 
liable to be dissipated ; the incomposite, if there is such a thing, 
should be safe from such a fate. And it is reasonable to hold that 
whatever maintains one and the same character in all circumstances 
is incomposite, what is perpetually changing its character is com- 
posite. Thus for the crude contrast between the " simple " and 
the composite, we substitute the more philosophical antithesis 
between the permanent and the mutable. (This takes us at once 
to ground where Kant's criticism would not affect us. If the soul 
is, in any sense, immutable, it is so far secured against the lowering 
of intensity of which Kant speaks.) In the kind of being of which 
we speak in our scientific studies, the being we are always trying 
to define the " forms," in fact we have a standard of the abso- 
lutely immutable. " Just straight," "just right," " just good," 
are once and for all exactly what they are, and are invariable. 

1 And yet, does not Kant's argument rest on the erroneous assumption 
that if a series has the lower limit o, o must actually be a term of the series ? 
But he is at least right in saying that survival as a " bare monad " would not 
be the kind of immortality from the thought of which any man could derive 
hope or comfort. 


But the many things which we call by the same names as the 
" forms " are in perpetual mutation. (The " good " man loses his 
goodness, the " handsome " garment its beauty, and so on.) Now 
these latter mutable things are all things you can touch or see or 
apprehend by one or other of the senses ; the immutable " standards " 
are one and all apprehensible only by thought (8<avoias /\oyioy*a>). 
This suggests that we may recognize two types of objects, each type 
having a pair of characters the invisible and immutable, and the 
visible and mutable. 1 Also we are agreed that we have a body and 
have a soul. To which of our types does each of these belong? 
Clearly the body can be seen, the soul is invisible (of course " seen " 
and "unseen " are being used here per synecdochen for "sensed," "not 
sensed," respectively). In respect of this character there can be no 
doubt of the type to which each belongs. What about the other pair 
of contrasted characters ? As we said before, when the soul relies 
on the sense-organs in her investigations she finds the objects she 
is studying perpetually shifting, and loses her own way (TrXavarat) 
among them. When she relies on her native power of thinking 
and attends to objects which are strictly determinate and un- 
changing, she finds her way among them without uncertainty and 
confusion, and it is just this condition of the soul we call " wisdom " 
or intelligence (^oi^o-is) . This would indicate that the soul 
herself belongs more truly to the type with which she is most at 
home, the immutable, whereas the body certainly belongs to the 
mutable. 2 

Again, in the partnership of soul and body, it is the soul which 
is rightly master and the body servant (the thought which the 
Academy crystallized in the definition of man as a soul using a 
human body as its instrument). Now it is for the divine to com- 
mand and rule, for the mortal to serve and obey ; hence it is the 
soul in us which plays the divine, the body which plays the mortal 
part. (This brings us at last to the point on which Socrates really 
means to insist, the " deiformity " or " kinship with God " of the 

1 This is identical at bottom with Dr. Whitehead's recent distinction 
between " objects " and " events," e.g. between " Cambridge-blue " and 
" Cambridge-blue-here-and-now." Dr. Whitehead, I think, does not expressly 
say that it is only events which can be " sensed," but that is really implied in 
his language. I see " Cambridge-blue-occurring-here-and-now " ; the object 
" Cambridge-blue," which does not " happen," is suggested to me by my sensa- 
tion of what is " happening ". I recognize it, am " put in mind of it " by the 
event which happens. Cf. Principles of Natural Knowledge, p. 81 : " Objects 
are entities recognized as appertaining to events ; they are the recognita amid 
events. Events are named after the objects involved in them." This is 
precisely the doctrine of " forms " and of " recollection." 

* Of course it is not said that the soul is absolutely immutable. This 
would not be true ; we can change even our most deeply cherished scientific 
and moral convictions. But it is true that, by contrast with the body, the 
.soul emerges as the relatively immutable. My intellectual and moral con- 
victions do not undergo " adaptive " modifications to a changing environment 
with the readiness shown by my organism. My body, for instance, will adapt 
itself to a great climatic change more readily than my mind to a society with 
a different morality or religion from my own. 


soul. In view of the standing Greek equation of " immortal " 
with " divine, 1 ' the formal inference to the immortality of the 
soul follows as a matter of course.) 

The soul, then, is relatively the permanent and divine thing 
in us, the body the merely human and mutable. We should 
therefore expect the body to be relatively perishable, the soul to be 
either wholly imperishable or nearly so. And yet we know that, 
with favourable circumstances, 1 even a dead body may be pre- 
served from corruption for ages, and there are parts of the body 
which seem all but indestructible. Much more should we expect 
that a soul which has made itself as far as possible independent of 
the mutable body, and has escaped by death to the divine and 
invisible, will be lifted above mutability and corruption. But if a 
soul has all through life set its affections on bodily things and the 
gratifications of appetite, it may be expected to hanker after the 
body even when death has divorced them, and be dragged down 
into the cycle of births again by this hankering. We may suppose 
that the place in the animate system into which it is reborn is 
determined by the nature of its specific lusts, so that each soul's 
own lusts provide it with its appropriate " hell," the sensual being 
reborn as asses, the rapacious and unjust as beasts of prey, and 
so forth. The mildest fate will be that of the persons who have 
practised the " popular goodness " misnamed temperance and 
justice without " philosophy " (i.e. of those who have simply 
shaped their conduct by a respectable moral tradition without true 
insight into the good, or, in Kantian phrase, have lived " according 
to duty," though not " from duty "). These, we may suppose, 
are reborn as "social creatures," like bees and ants, or as men 
again, and they make " decent bodies " as mankind goes. The 
attainment of " divinity " or " deiformity " is reserved for the 
man who has resolutely lived the highest of the three lives, that of the 
" lover of wisdom," and subdued his lusts, not like the " lover of 
wealth " from fear of poverty, nor like the " lover of honour " from 
concern for his reputation, but from love of good. This explains 
the reason why the lover of wisdom lives hard. It is because he 
knows that what a man comes to feel pleasure and pain about be- 
comes his engrossing interest. To find your joy and woe in the 
gratifications of the body means to come to be bound up with its 
fortunes, and this bars the way to deification and binds you down 
to the wheel of birth. It is for the sake of this supreme good, 
" deification," that the lover of wisdom denies " the flesh." To 
consent to its motions would be to act like Penelope, who unwove 
by night what she had spent the day in weaving. Now a man 
whose whole life has been an aspiration to rise above mutability 
to deiformity will be the last person to fear that the new and abiding 

l The meaning of tv rotai/r^ wpg. (Soc) has been much disputed. From a 
comparison with Tim. 24^ 6, Phileb. 266 i, Critias, me 5, 1 take the meaning to 
be " climate," though I cannot produce another example of the singular of 
that sense. 


deiform self which is being built up in him will be unbuilt by the 
event of death. 1 

(I make no apology for having drawn freely on the character- 
istic language of Christian mysticism in expounding this argument. 
Under all the real differences due to the Christian's belief in the 
historical reality of the God-man, the ideal of Socrates and the 
Christian ideal are fundamentally identical. The central thought 
in both cases is that man is born a creature of temporality and 
mutability into a temporal and mutable environment. But, in 
virtue of the fact that there is a something " divine " in him, he 
cannot but aspire to a good which is above time and mutability, 
and thus the right life is, from first to last, a process by which the 
merely secular and temporal self is re-made in the likeness of the 
eternal. If we understand this, we shall be in no danger of suppos- 
ing that Socrates is merely anticipating the jejune argument from the 
indivisibility of a " simple substance/' or that the Kantian polemic 
against Wolffian rationalism seriously affects his reasoning. The 
thought is that the real nature of the soul has to be learned from a 
consideration of the nature of the specific " good " to which it 
aspires. A creature whose well-being consists in living for an 
" eternal " good cannot be a mere thing of time and change. In this 
sense, the morality of the Platonic dialogues, like all morality 
which can command an intelligent man's respect, is from first to 
last " other-worldly/' ) 

FIRST INTERLUDE (84^-856). At this point the thread of the 
argument is broken ; a general silence ensues, but Simmias and 
Cebes are observed to be whispering together, as though they were 
not quite satisfied. Artistically the break serves the purpose of 
lowering the pitch of the conversation and relieving the emotional 
strain. It also has a logical function. Impressive as the moral 
argument for immortality is, there are scientific objections to it of 
which we have so far heard nothing, and these deserve to be care- 
fully stated and adequately met, since we cannot be called on to 
accept any view of man's destiny, however attractive, which contra- 
dicts known scientific truth, nor is Socrates the man to wish, even 
in the immediate presence of death, to acquiesce in a faith which is 
not a reasonable faith. That would be simple cowardice (840). He 
has just broken out into his "swan-song," and like the swans, his 
fellow-servants of the Delphic (? Delian) god, he sings for hope 
and joy, not in lamentation. He is therefore robust enough in 
his faith to be only too ready to hear and consider any objections. 

OBJECTIONS OF SIMMIAS AND CEBES (850-880). Simmias thinks, 
like a modern " agnostic/' that certainty about our destiny may be 
unattainable. He would at heart like to be able to appeal to 

1 Like Spinoza, but without, like him, being hampered by a naturalistic 
metaphysic, Socrates holds that the man who lives best has the soul of which 
the greatest part is eternal, i.e. the more thoroughly you live the philosophic 
life, the less is the personality you achieve at the mercy of circumstance, even 
if the circumstance is the change we call death. 


" revelation " (a Ao'yo? fleios, 85^) on such a question, but agrees 
that, in the absence of a revelation, one should resolutely examine 
all human speculations on the problem, and adopt that which will 
stand close scrutiny best. The difficulty he feels about Socrates' 
reasoning is that what he has said about the soul and the body 
might equally be said about the " melody " of a musical instru- 
ment and the strings which make the music. The strings are 
visible and tangible bodies, are composite and perishable, the music 
is invisible, incorporeal, and " divine." But it would clearly be 
absurd to argue that, for this reason, the music still exists and 
sounds " somewhere " when the instrument is broken. Now it 
is " our belief " that the body is like a musical instrument whose 
strings are its ultimate components, the hot, cold, moist, and dry, 
and that the soul is the music this instrument gives out when these 
' strings " are properly tuned. If this is so, we may grant that 
the soul is " divine/' like all beauty and proportion, but we must 
also grant that disease and other disturbances of the constitution 
of the organism break the strings of the instrument or put them 
out of tune, and this makes it impossible to argue that because the 
debris of the broken instrument continues to exist after the fracture, 
a fortiori the music must persist still more immutably (850-86^). 

Cebes has a different objection. He does not attach much 
importance to the epiphenomenalism of Simmias, but he complains 
that nothing has really been proved beyond " pre-existence," which 
has been all along regarded as guaranteed by the doctrine of 
"reminiscence." Even if we grant that the soul, so far from being 
a mere resultant of bodily causes, actually makes its own body, 
this only shows it to be like a weaver who makes his own cloak. 
In the course of his life he makes and wears out a great many cloaks, 
but when he dies he leaves the last cloak he has made behind him, 
and it would be ridiculous to argue that he cannot be dead because 
the cloak which he made is still here, and a man lasts longer than a 
cloak. So the soul might make and wear out a whole succession of 
bodies indeed, if it is true that the body is always being broken 
down by waste of tissue and built up again by the soul, something 
of this sort happens daily. But even if we go so far as to assume 
that the soul repeatedly makes itself a new body after the death 
of an old one, it may be that, like the weaver, it exhausts its vigour 
sooner or later, and so will make a last body, after the death of which 
the soul will no longer exist. And w r e can never be sure that the 
building up of our present body is not the last performance of such 
a worn-out soul, and consequently that the death we are now 
awaiting may not be a complete extinction (S6e-S8b). 

These objections, Phaedo says, struck dismay into the whole 
company, with the single exception of Socrates. For they appeared 
to dispose of the whole case for immortality, and, what was worse, 
they made the hearers, who had been profoundly impressed by 
Socrates' discourse, feel that they would never be able to put any 
confidence in their own judgment again, if what had seemed to be 


completely proved could be so easily disposed of. Plato is careful 
to interrupt the narrative at this point still more completely, by 
allowing Echecrates to add that he sympathizes with the general 
consternation, since he too has hitherto been strongly convinced 
that the soul is the " attunement " of the body and is therefore 
anxious to know how Socrates met the difficulty (SSc-e). 

The purpose of all this by-play is to call attention to the critical 
importance of the two problems which have just been raised. We 
are, in fact, at the turning-point of the discussion. The " moral " 
argument based on the divinity of the soul, as proved by the char- 
acter of the good to which it aspires, has been stated in all its im- 
pressiveness, and we have now to consider whether " science " can 
invalidate it. To use Kantian language, we have seen what the 
demand of " practical reason " is, and the question is whether there 
is an insoluble conflict between this demand and the principles of 
the "speculative reason," as Echecrates and the auditors of 
Socrates fear, or, in still more familiar language, the question is 
whether there is or is not an ultimate discord between " religion " 
and " science." 

As to the source and purport of the two objections it may be 
enough to say a very few words. That of Simmias, as is indicated 
by the remarks of Echecrates, is represented by Plato as based on 
the medical and physiological theories of the younger Pythagoreans. 
It is a natural development from the well-known theory of Alcmaeon 
that health depends on the Ivovoptrj or " constitutional balance " 
between the constituents of the organism. The comparison with 
the " attunement " of the strings of a musical instrument would be 
suggested at once by the Pythagorean discovery of the simple 
ratios corresponding to the intervals of the musical scale. From 
this to the conclusion that " mind " is the tune given out by the 
" strings " of the body, the music made by the body, is a very easy 
step ; and since we now know that Philolaus, the teacher of Cebes 
and Simmias, had specially interested himself in medicine, we may 
make a probable conjecture that we are dealing with his doctrine 
(which is also that of his contemporary Empedocles, Frs. 107, 108). 
Since the same doctrine appears in Parmenides (Fr. 16), it was 
clearly making its way among the Pythagoreans by the beginning 
of the fifth century, though it is, of course, quite inconsistent with 
their religious beliefs about re-birth in animal bodies : (on all this, 
see E.G.Ph* 295-296). 

In principle the theory is exactly that of modern " epiphe- 
nomenalism," according to which " consciousness " is a mere by- 
product of the activities of the bodily organism, the " whistle," 
as Huxley said, given off by the steam as it escapes from the engine. 
A satisfactory refutation of it must ipso facto be a refutation of the 
whole epiphenomenalist position. 

The source of the difficulty raised by Cebes is different. His 
allusion to the alternation of waste and repair in the organism at 
once suggests a Heraclitean origin ; he is thinking of the view of 


Heraclitus that the apparent stability of " things " lasts just so 
long as the antithetical processes of the " way up " and the " way 
down " balance one another, and no longer. (For the evidence 
of Heraclitean influences on fifth-century Pythagoreanism, see 
E.G.Ph* Index, s.v. Hippasos ; Greek Philosophy, Part I., 87-88.) 
How " modern " Cebes' point is will best be seen by reflecting 
that the Heraclitean theory of " exchanges " is really a dim antici- 
pation of the modern principle of the conservation of energy. The 
argument is, in effect, one quite familiar in our own times. If we 
reject epiphenomenalism and admit interaction between mind and 
body, it is argued that the mind must part with " energy " in 
acting on the body, and Cebes, like a modern physicist appealing 
to the principle of Carnot, holds that this loss of energy cannot be 
made good indefinitely. A time will come when the effective 
energy of the \lrvxj has been wholly dissipated. Thus his criticism, 
like that of Simmias, is precisely of the kind which a man of science 
is tempted to urge against the belief in immortality in our own day. 
The one difference between the two positions is that the objection 
of Simmias is primarily that of a biologist, the difficulty of Cebes 
is that of a physicist. Cebes may also be said in a way to be antici- 
pating Kant's criticism of the argument from the "simplicity 11 of 
the soul. His conception of the soul as perishing by wearing out 
her stock of vitality answers pretty closely to Kant's conception of 
a gradual sinking of the "intensity" of "consciousness" to the 

section of the dialogue falls into three subdivisions. There is first 
a preliminary discourse by Socrates intended to warn us against 
being disgusted with serious thinking by the occurrence of diffi- 
culties and so led into mere " irrationalism," next a discussion of 
the difficulty of Simmias, and then a longer treatment of the much 
more fundamental problem raised by Cebes, this last subdivision 
receiving a special narrative introduction of its own. 

(a) The Warning against Misology (Sga-gic). Socrates, alone 
of the company, shows himself calm and even playful in the presence 
of the bolt or rather bolts just shot from the blue. The " argu- 
ment," at any rate, shall be " raised again," if he can perform the 
miracle. But whether he succeeds or not, he would at least utter 
a solemn warning against " misology," irrationalism. Distrust of 
reason arises much in the same way as misanthropy, distrust of our 
fellows. The commonest cause of misanthropy is an unwise con- 
fidence based on ignorance of character. When a man has re- 
peatedly put this ignorant confidence in the unworthy and been 
disillusioned, he often ends by conceiving a spite against mankind 
and denouncing humanity as radically vicious. But the truth is 
that exalted virtue and gross wickedness are both rare. What the 
disillusioned man ought to blame for his experience is his own 
blind ignorance of human nature. So if a man who has not the 
art of knowing a sound argument from an unsound one has found 


himself repeatedly misled by his blind trust in unsound " discourses/' 
there is a real danger that he will lay the blame on the weakness 
of our intellectual faculties and end as a mere irrationalist. 1 To 
avoid this fate, when we find our most cherished convictions appar- 
ently breaking down under criticism we must lay the blame not 
on the inherent untrust worthiness of " discourse " but on our own 
rashness in committing ourselves to an uncriticized position. We 
will therefore reconsider our case and try to meet the objections 
which have been brought against us, in the spirit of men who are 
contending honestly for truth, not for an argumentative victory. 

(#) The Objection of Simmias removed (gic-g^a). In the first 
place, it may be pointed out that the difficulty raised by Simmias is 
incompatible with his own professed principles. He avows himself 
satisfied now by what had been already said that knowledge is 
" reminiscence/' and that, consequently, our souls existed before 
they wore our present bodily guise. Plainly that cannot be the 
case if the soul is an " epiphenomenon/ 1 the melody given out by 
the body, the " whistle of the engine/' to recur to Huxley's version 
of the same doctrine. The musical instrument must pre-exist and 
its strings be screwed up to the right pitch before the melody can 
be there. We may assert either that all knowledge is " reminis- 
cence " or that the soul is an epiphenomenon ; we must not assert 
both propositions at once. And Simmias himself has no doubt 
which of the two positions has the better claim to acceptance. 
The doctrine of " reminiscence " has been deduced from the 
" postulate " (u7ro0c(m) of the reality of the " forms," a principle 
which Simmias has all through accepted as certain. The epi- 
phenomenalist theory of the soul rests on nothing more than a 
plausible analogy, and we all know how deceptive such analogies 
can be in geometry, for example (92^). 

(There is real point in Socrates' argumentum ad hominem, inde- 
pendently of the assumption of pre-existence. We may compare 
the story of W. G. Ward's crushing reply to Huxley, who had just 
explained mental life to his own satisfaction by epiphenomenalism 
plus the laws of association, " You have forgotten memory," i.e. 
the fundamental fact of the recognition of the past as past. As 
Huxley had to admit, his scheme could give no account of recog- 
nition, and without presupposing recognition it would not work.) 

But the epiphenomenalist theory is not merely incompatible 
with our unproved postulate about " forms " ; it is also demon- 
strably false on independent grounds. There are two things which 
are characteristic of every " attunement " or " melody " ; every 
" attunement " is completely determined by its constituents, and 
no " attunement " admits of degrees. If a pair of vibrating strings 

1 The description of the misologist would equally cover both the case of 
the man who ends in pure scepticism and that of the man who takes refuge 
in a blind faith in what he openly avows to be irrational. Socrates stands for a 
fides quaerens intellectum against both " universal doubt " and indifferentism 
and blind ndeism or " voluntarism." Hence the partisans of the one call him 
a " dogmatist," those of the other an " intellectualist." 


have one determinate ratio, the interval their notes make will be 
the fourth, and cannot possibly be anything else ; if they have 
another determinate ratio, the interval will be the fifth, and so on. 
Again, a string either is " in tune " or it is not, and there is no third 
alternative, Between any pair of notes there is one definite in- 
terval ; they make that interval exactly and they make no other. 
C and Gfr, for example, make an interval as definite, though not as 
pleasing, as C and G. " No attunement is more or less of an attune- 
ment than any other." What inferences about the soul would 
follow from these two considerations, if the soul is an " attune- 
ment " ? It would follow at once from the second thesis that no 
one soul can be more or less of a soul than any other. But we have 
to reckon with the recognized fact that some souls are better or 
worse than others. Now there seems to be a real analogy between 
goodness and being " in tune/' and between badness and being 
" out of tune." Either then we should have to express this differ- 
ence by saying that one " attunement " (the good soul) is more 
" attuned " than another (the bad soul), and our own admissions 
forbid us to say this ; or we must say that the good soul not only 
is an " attunement " but has a second further " attunement " 
within itself, and this is manifestly absurd. If a soul is an " attune- 
ment," we can only say that every soul is as much an " attunement " 
as any other, and this amounts to saying that no one soul is morally 
better or worse than another, or even that all souls, since all are 
precise " attunements," are perfectly good. But this denial of 
differences of moral worth is manifestly ridiculous. The argument 
is, then, that epiphenomenalism is incompatible with the recognition 
of differences of moral worth, and that these differences are certainly 
real. A theory which conflicts with the first principles of ethics 
must be false, since these principles are certain truth. 

(The argument, though stated in a way unfamiliar to us, is 
precisely that which weighs with men who are in earnest with 
ethics against a philosophy like Spinoza's. Though Spinoza does 
not make " consciousness " depend causally on the organism, for 
practical purposes his theory of the independent " attributes " 
works out in the same way as epiphenomenalism. The tyvxn, though 
not causally dependent on the constituents of the organism, is 
supposed to be mathematically determinable as a function of them. 
Consequently, just as Simmias has to allow that no " attunement " 
is more or less an " attunement " than any other, Spinoza holds 
a rigidly nominalist doctrine about " human nature." There is 
really no such thing as a " human nature " of which Peter or Paul 
is a good specimen, but Nero a very bad one. Nero is not, properly 
speaking, a bad specimen of a man ; he is a perfect specimen of a 
Nero. To say that he may be' a perfect Nero, but is a very bad 
man, is judging by a purely arbitrary and " subjective " standard. 
(See Ethics, Part L, Appendix, Part IV., Preface.) But, if this is 
so, Spinoza is undertaking an impossible task in writing a treatise 
on the good for man and the way to obtain it.) 


Again, we have to consider the consequences of the thesis that 
an " attunement " is a determinate function of its constituents. 
Given the constituents, the musical " interval " between them is 
also once and for all completely given. Now the most potent fact 
about our moral life is that it is a conflict or struggle between an 
element whose rightful function is to dominate and direct, and a 
second whose place is to obey and be directed. The soul is con- 
stantly repressing the desires for gratification of appetites connected 
with the body. (It is not meant, of course, that the whole of moral 
discipline consists in subduing such elementary appetites ; they are 
taken as examples because they are the simplest and most obvious 
illustration of a principle.) The moral life is a process of subjugation 
of the " flesh " and its desires to the " godly motions of the spirit." 
The "spirit" which dominates the "flesh" clearly cannot be itself 
just the " attunement " or " scale " constituted by the ingredients 
of the " flesh." If this were so, the state of soul at any moment 
should be simply the resultant and expression of our " organic " 
condition at that moment, and there should be no such experience 
as the familiar one of the division of " spirit " or " judgment " 
against " flesh " or " appetite." (Here, again, the criticism is 
conclusive for a serious moralist against all forms of epipheno- 
menalism. The epiphenomenalist is tied by his theory to a " one- 
world " interpretation of human experience ; morality presupposes 
a " two-world " interpretation. Its very nature is to be a " struggle " 
between a higher and a lower. If man were merely a creature of 
time, or again if he were simply eternal, the struggle could not arise ; 
its tremendous reality is proof that man's soul is the meeting-place 
of the two orders, the temporal and the eternal, and this, of itself, 
disposes of the simpliste theory of human personality as a simple 
function of the passing state of the " organism " or the " nervous 
system." The epiphenomenalist psychophysics merely ignore the 
most important of the " appearances " which a true account of 
moral personality ought to " save." Like all the arguments of the 
dialogue, this reasoning, of course, presupposes the objective 
validity of moral distinctions ; to the denier of that vTrotfeo-is it will 
bring no conviction.) 

(y) The Difficulty of Cebes discussed (95a-i02). As has been 
said already, the difficulty raised by Cebes is of a much more serious 
kind than that of Simmias. As the subsequent history of psychology 
has proved, epiphenomenalism is after all a thoughtless and in- 
coherent theory based on hopelessly misleading analogies and in- 
competent to take account of the obvious facts of mental life. The 
theory on which Cebes is relying is a very different matter ; he is 
appealing to the first principles of a <c mechanical " philosophy of 
nature. Put in modern language,* his contention comes to this, 
that the action of mind on body presupposed in ethics cannot be 
reconciled with the principles of natural science except by supposing 
that mind " expends energy " in doing its work of " direction." 
If this expenditure of energy goes on without compensation, a 


time must come when the available energy of the mind is exhausted. 
Thus the issue raised is at bottom that which is still with us, of the 
universal validity of the postulates of a mechanical interpretation 
of nature. 

Does the guiding influence of intelligence on bodily movement 
come under the scope of the two great laws of the Conservation 
and the Degradation of Energy ? If it does, we must look with 
certainty to the disappearance of our personality after the lapse of 
some finite duration ; if it does not, the principles of mechanics 
are not of universal application. The development of Energetics 
in the nineteenth century has enabled us to state the problem with 
a precision which would have been impossible not merely to Plato, 
but even to Descartes or Leibniz, but in principle the problem itself 
has remained the same under all these developments ; Socrates 
in this part of the Phaedo is dealing with the very question which 
is the theme, for instance, of James Ward's Naturalism and 

The importance of the problem demands that we should formu- 
late it with very special care. We may state it thus. Granting the 
" real distinction of mind from body," it is possible that in every 
act of intercourse with the body the mind parts with energy which 
it cannot recover ; if that is so, its progress to destruction begins 
with its very first entrance into contact with a body, and the com- 
pletion of the progress is only a matter of time (95^). Now in 
discussing this problem we are driven to face a still more funda- 
mental one, the question of " the causes of coming into being and 
passing out of being "(950), that is, the question of the adequacy of 
the whole mechanical interpretation of Nature. Socrates' object 
is to persuade his friends that no single process in Nature is ade- 
quately explained by the mechanical interpretation. He can 
most readily carry them with him by first giving an account of his 
own personal mental history and the reasons why he gave up the 
mechanical philosophy in early manhood. This brings us to the 

SECOND INTERLUDE (95e-io2a). The Origin of the Socratic 
Method. (For the, to my mind, overwhelming evidence that the 
narrative which follows is meant by Plato as a strictly historical 
account of the early development of Socrates I must refer to Burnet's 
detailed notes in his edition of the dialogue. The main point is 
that the general state of scientific opinion described can be shown 
to be precisely that which must have existed at Athens in the middle 
of the fifth century, and cannot well have existed anywhere else 
or at any later time. The " scientific doubts " of which Socrates 
speaks are all connected with two special problems the reconciliation 
of Milesian with Pythagorean cosmology, and the facing of the 
contradictions Zeno had professed to discover in the foundation of 
Pythagorean mathematics. It is assumed that the system of 
Anaxagoras is the last great novelty in physics, and there are clear 
references to those of Diogenes of Apollonia and of Archelaus. 
This fixes the date to which Plato means to take us back down to the 


middle of the fifth century, a consideration which disposes at once 
of the preposterous suggestions that the narrative is meant as a 
description either of Plato's own mental development or of the 
development of a " typical " philosopher. Of course, Plato cannot 
tell us at first-hand what Socrates was doing and thinking more than 
twenty years before his own birth, but he has, at least, taken care 
that his story shall be in accord with historical probabilities, and 
we may fairly presume that some of the information employed in 
constructing it came to him directly from Socrates himself. Thus 
we have as much evidence for its accuracy as we can have for 
that of any narrative of events related by a narrator born a quarter 
of a century after the period he is describing. 1 ) 

The general drift of the narrative is as follows. As a young 
man, Socrates had felt an enthusiasm for " natural science " and 
made himself acquainted with the biological theories of the 
Milesians, the Heracliteans, Empedocles, the psychology of 
Alcmaeon, the flat-earth cosmologies of the lonians and the spherical- 
earth cosmologies of the Italian Pythagoreans, as well as with the 
mathematical subtleties of Zeno about the "unit " and the nature 
of addition and subtraction. The result of all this eager study was 
to induce a state of dubitatio de omnibus ; so far from discovering 
the cause of all processes, Socrates was led to feel that he did not 
understand the " reason why " of the simplest and most everyday 
occurrences. At this point he fell in with the doctrine of Anaxagoras 
that " mind " is the one cause of order everywhere. The doctrine 
appealed to him at once, from its teleological appearance. If all 
the arrangements in the universe are due to intelligence, that must 
mean that everything is " ordered as it is best it should be," and 
Socrates therefore hoped to find in Anaxagoras a deliverer from all 
scientific uncertainties. He expected him to solve all problems in 
cosmology, astronomy, and biology by showing what grouping of 
things was best, and consequently most intelligent. But when he 
read the work of Anaxagoras, he found that its performance did 
not answer to its promise. Anaxagoras made no use of his principle 
when he came to the details of his cosmology ; he merely fell back 
on the same sort of mechanical causes (" airs " and " waters ") 
as the rest of the cosmologists. Like them, he made the fatal 
mistake of confusing a cause, or causa principalis, with " that with- 
out which the cause would not act as a cause/' causae concomitantes 
or " accessory conditions. 11 This was much as though a man should 
say that the reason why Socrates is now sitting quietly awaiting 
death, instead of being in full flight for Thebes or Megara, is the 
condition of his sinews, muscles, and bones. The real reason is 

1 The autobiographical pages of our dialogue are thus the ancient counter- 
part of Descartes' Discours de la mtthode pour bien conduire sa raison with 
the interesting differences, (i) that though both philosophers are concerned to 
simplify philosophy by getting rid of a false and artificial method, Descartes' 
object is to revive the very "mechanical" interpretation of nature which 
Socrates rejected, and (2) that Socrates left it to the piety of another to do for 
his mental history what Descartes did for himself. 


that he judges it good to abide by the decision of a legally consti- 
tuted court ; if he judged otherwise, if he thought flight the more 
reasonable course, his bodily mechanism would be in a very different 
condition. Of course, if he had not this apparatus of bones and 
sinews and the rest, he could not follow up his judgment, but 
it remains true that it is his judgment on the question which 
really determines whether he shall sit still or run. This is pre- 
cisely what we mean by saying that Socrates acts rw, rationally 
or intelligently. 

The disappointment, Socrates says, confirmed his opinion that 
he was " no good " (d<w)s ws ovfev XPW -) 1 a ^ natural science, 
and must try to find some way out of his " universal doubt " by 
his own mother-wit, without trusting to " men of science/' each of 
whom only seemed to be able to prove one thing that all the others 
were wrong. His description of the " new method " reveals it to 
us at once as that which is characteristic of mathematics. It is a 
method of considering " things " by investigating the \6yoi or 
" propositions " we make about them. Its fundamental char- 
acteristic is that it is deductive. You start with the " postulate/' 
or undemonstratcd principle, which you think most satisfactory 
and proceed to draw out its consequences or " implications " 
(av/A/fotWra), provisionally putting the consequences down as 
" true," and any propositions which conflict with the postulate 
as false (loofl). Of course, as is made clear later on, a " postulate " 
(v-n-oOecTLs) which is found to imply consequences at variance with 
fact or destructive of one another is taken as disproved. But the 
absence of contradiction from the consequences of a " postulate " 
is not supposed to be sufficient proof of its truth. If you are called 
on by an opponent who disputes your postulate to defend it, you 
must deduce the postulate itself from a more ultimate one, and 
this procedure has to be repeated until you reach a postulate which 
is " adequate " (1010 i), that is, which all parties to the discussion 
are willing to admit. (We hear more of this part of the method in 
Rep. vi. 510-511, where we discover that the ideal goal of the method 
is to deduce the whole of science from truths which are strictly 
self-evident, but nothing is said of this in the Phaedo.) The most 
important special rule of the method, however, is that, also insisted 
on by Descartes, that a proper order must be observed. We are 
not to raise the question of the truth of a " postulate " itself until 
we have first discovered exactly what its consequences are. The 

1 Of course this is said humorously. It is the man who can discourse 
learnedly about " airs " and " waters " we might say about " electrons " 
and " electric fields " and yet ignores the distinction between "cause" and 
" accessory conditions " who is really, from Socrates' point of view, d$vfys o>s 
ottev XP^MO- for the work of hard thinking. Later on (99^), Socrates calls 
the method he fell back on a 5etfre/>os TrXoOs, or " second-best " course. As 
the phrase originally refers to taking to the oars when the wind prevents 
using the sails, the suggestion is that Socrates' method is "second-best" 
rather in being slower and harder than the slap-dash dogmatism of the physi- 
cists than in leading to inferior results. 


confusion of these two distinct problems is the great error of the 
dvrtXoytKot (loie). In spite of his humorous depreciation of 
his proceeding as that of an amateur, Socrates has evidently, like 
Descartes, reflected carefully on the nature of geometrical method, 
and, like him, he is proposing to introduce the same method into 
scientific inquiry in general. An illustration, he says, may be given 
by considering his own familiar practice of " postulating " such 
" forms " as " the good/' " beauty/ 1 and the rest. He intends, in 
a few minutes, to show that if this " postulate " is made, the im- 
mortality of the soul will follow as an implication (ioo&). (There 
is no question of proving the " postulate " itself, as the whole 
company are ready to concede it.) At this point we leave the 
autobiographical narrative and pass to an application of the 
" postulate " of " forms " to the theory of causation, which 
is a necessary preliminary to the final argument for immortality 

What Socrates intends to explain is what we have learned from 
Aristotle to call " formal " causality, but he has no technical 
terminology ready to hand and therefore makes his meaning clear 
by examples. If we ask why something is beautiful, we may be told 
in one case, "because it has a bright colour/' in another "because 
it has such-and-such a shape/ 1 The point that Socrates wants to 
make is that such answers are insufficient. There must ultimately 
be one single reason why we can predicate one and the same char- 
acter, beauty, in all these cases. Having a bright colour cannot be 
the cause of beauty, since the thing we call beautiful on the strength 
of its shape may not be coloured at all ; having a particular shape 
cannot be the cause of beauty, since we pronounce things which 
have not that shape to be beautiful, on the strength of their colour, 
and so on. Hence Socrates says he rejects all these learned ex- 
planations and sticks to the simple one that universally the reason 
why anything is beautiful is that " beauty " is " present to it/' 
or that it " partakes of " beauty. The thought is that whenever 
we are justified in asserting the same predicate univocaUy of a 
plurality of logical subjects, the predicate in every case names one 
and the same " character." It is these characters which Socrates 
calls " forms." We might call them " universals " if we bear two 
cautions carefully in mind. They are not to be supposed to be 
" ideas in our minds " or anything of that sort ; they are realities 
of which we think. Also, as the case of " beauty " is well adapted 
to show, a " form " may be " present " to a thing in very varying 
degrees. A thing may be very beautiful, or it may be only very 
imperfectly beautiful, and it may well be that nothing is super- 
latively and completely beautiful. We should also note that the 
precise character of the relation which Socrates calls " presence " 
or " participation " or " communication " (gotiwyta) is nowhere 
explained, and his hesitation about the name for this relation (lood) 
may perhaps mean that he feels that there is an unsolved problem 
involved by his " postulate." There obviously is such a problem. 


We naturally ask ourselves at once what else a particular sensible 
thing is, besides being a complex of " forms " or " characters/' 
As far as the Phaedo goes, we are not told that the thing is any more 
than a " bundle of universals." The attempt to say what else it 
is has played a prominent part in later philosophy. Plato's answer 
has to be collected with difficulty from Aristotle's scattered notices 
of his informal oral discourses. Aristotle and the mediaeval 
Aristotelians tried to answer the same question by their doctrine 
of " matter " and " form/' Scotus by the difficult doctrine of 
haecceitas. But there is no evidence that Socrates had any answer 
to the difficulty. The immediate point is simply that if we admit 
the existence of " forms/' we must say in every case that the 
" cause " or " reason " why a predicate ft can be asserted of a 
thing a is that a corresponding " form " B " is present " to a, or 
that a " partakes of " the " form " B. How it has come to do so 
is a different question, and we must not suffer ourselves to be led 
away on a false trail. (The question is, e.g., " Why is this thing now 
beautiful ? What do I mean by calling it so ? not, What had to 
be done to it before I could call it so ? ) l 

We might seem here to have lost sight of the insistence on 
teleology which had marked Socrates' comments on Anaxagoras, 
but there is really a close connexion between " end " and " formal 
cause," as Aristotle was to show at length. To say that the primary 
problem is always to explain what a thing is by reference to its 
" form " carries the implication that we have to explain the origins 
and rudimentary phases of things by what the things are, when they 
are at last there, not to explain what they are by discoursing on 
their origins, and this is precisely what we mean by taking a 
" teleological " point of view. But it would take us too far away 
from the Phaedo to discuss the full implications of such teleology. 2 

At the point we have reached, the narrative of Phaedo is once 
more broken in order that Echecrates, as a mathematician, may 
express his high approval of Socrates' doctrine of method (which, in 
fact, is pretty plainly inspired by the example of Zeno in his famous 
polemic, the point of which was to show that there must be some- 
thing amiss with the " postulates " of the early Pythagorean 

1 The importance of Socrates' warning against substituting some other 
problem for that of the formal cause is well illustrated by the perpetual 
confusion in our own times between explaining what a thing is and theorizing 
about its origin. Thus we are incessantly being offered speculations about the 
way in which morality or religion or art may have originated as if they were 
answers to the question what art or religion or morality is. 

2 One obvious implication may just be mentioned. As the earlier stages in 
our own life can only be fully explained in the light of what we were then 
going to be, so to explain a man's life as a whole we need to know not only 
what he is now, but what he may yet grow to be. Thus the problem of our 
ultimate destiny is strictly relevant to the ethical problem proper, on what 
principles we ought to regulate our present conduct. It is idle to say that it 
" makes no difference to ethics " whether the soul is immortal. It ought to 
make all the difference, just as it makes all the difference to the rules of the 
nursery that babies do not remain babies. 


geometers, since they could be shown to lead to pairs of contra- 
dictory implications). We then embark formally on the 

The " forms " had entered incidentally into both the proposed 
proofs which have been already examined. In this final proof we 
are offered a direct deduction of immortality from the fundamental 
postulate that the " forms " exist. This marks the argument as 
intended to be the climax of the whole reasoning, since the proof, if 
successful, must be recognized as complete by Cebes or any one 
else who regards the reality of the " forms " as the basis of his 
whole philosophy. 

We have, in the first place, to stipulate for an unusual accuracy 
of expression which is necessary if we are to avoid fallacy. We 
commonly speak, for example, of one man as taller or shorter than 
another. We say Simmias is taller than Socrates but not so tall as 
Phaedo. On the face of it this looks as though we were calling 
Simmias at once tall and short, and therefore asserting the simul- 
taneous presence in him of two " opposed " Forms. But all we 
really mean is that Simmias happens to be relatively taller than 
Socrates and shorter than Phaedo. It is not " in virtue of being 
Simmias " (en sa qualite de Simmias) that these things can be pre- 
dicated of him. The distinction here taken is that between essential 
and accidental predication since made familiar to us all by Aristotelian 
logic. Or, in scholastic terminology, it is the distinction between 
an intrinsic and an extrinsic denomination. The point has to be 
made, because the force of the argument now to be produced depends 
on the fact that it deals entirely with essential predication. 

This being premised, we may go on to assert (a) that not only 
will no " form/ 1 e.g. magnitude, combine with an opposed " form," 
but further, " the magnitude in us will never admit the small " 
(i02d). That is, not only can we dismiss at once as false such 
assertions as that " virtue is vice," " unity is plurality," but we 
can also equally dismiss any proposition in which a subject, other 
than a " form," of which that form is essentially predicated, is 
qualified by a predicate opposed to that which attaches to it 
essentially in virtue of the " form " under consideration. Thus, if 
" shortness " were an essential predicate of Socrates, we could say 
that " Socrates is tall " must be false ; it is only because a given 
stature is an " accident " of Socrates that it is possible to say of him 
at one date that he is short, but at another (when he has grown) 
that he is " tall." (Or to take an example which perhaps illustrates 
the point even better, not only is it absurd to say that virtue itself 
is vice, it would also be absurd to say " the virtues of the old pagans 
were splendid vices," if we meant such a phrase as anything more 
than a rhetorical exaggeration.) When a " form " opposite to that 
which is essential to a certain thing " advances " to " occupy " the 
thing, the original " form " cannot subsist side by side with its 
rival in joint occupation of the ground. It must either " beat its 
retreat " (\>irK%<i>pclv) or t>e " annihilated " (dTroAwAo/ai). (The 


metaphors, including that indicated in the last phrase, 
are all military.) And this statement is quite consistent with that 
of our first " proof " about the generation of " opposites " from one 
another. For we were talking then about " opposite things " 
(Trpay/xara), and meant that a thing which becomes cool must 
have been warm, a thing which becomes big must have been small. 
Now we are talking about the predicates or characters of the things, 
and mean that hot does not become cold nor cold hot. The two 
positions are thus fully compatible with each other (1036). 

(/3) We can make a further assertion which will conduct us 
straight to the conclusion we want. There are certain things 
which are not themselves " forms," but of which participation in 
a given form is an essential character. Thus fire is not " warmth " 
nor is snow " cold." But fire will not " admit " the form " cold," 
nor snow the form " warmth." Fire is never cool nor snow hot. 
As we said already, when " cold " attempts to " occupy " fire, or 
heat to " occupy " snow, an essential character of the thing must 
either " withdraw " or be " annihilated," and in either case the 
thing, the fire or the snow, is no longer the thing it was. But we 
may now add that in cases like that of fire and snow, when each 
of a pair of subjects has predicated of it essentially " participation " 
in a form " opposite " to one in which the other member of the pair 
essentially participates, the same thing will occur. Thus " cold " 
is essentially predicated of snow and " hot " of fire. And we may 
say not only the snow will " retire " or be " annihilated " rather 
than allow itself to be " occupied " by heat, but further that snow 
will not abide the " advance " of fire. It melts and ceases to be 
snow when you expose it to fire. (This is a case of the alternative 
of " annihilation." The snow, so to say, allows itself to be " cut 
up " in defence of its " position " when the forces of the fire make 
their onslaught.) So again the number "three" is not the same 
thing as " the odd," or " odd number," since there are many other 
odd numbers, but it " participates" essentially in the " form " odd. 
(It is true that " three " and the other numbers, unlike fire and 
snow, are also themselves spoken of freely in this and other dialogues 
as " forms," but Socrates makes no difficulty about treating the 
" participation " of a sensible thing in a " form "and the " participa- 
tion " of one " form " in another as examples of the same relation. 
As we might put it in the terminology of modern " logistic," he 
does not discriminate between the relation of an individual to a 
class, and the relation of total inclusion between one class and 
another.) Consequently " whatever is occupied " by the " form " 
three is also "occupied" by the accompanying "form" odd ; the 
cardinal number of every " triplet " is an odd integer. Hence no 
triplet will allow itself to be " occupied " by the " form " even 
number. You cannot make an even triplet (e.g., when a man's 
fourth child is born, the class " children of So-and-so " does not 
become an even triplet ; it ceases to be a triplet as well as to be 
" odd." This is an example of the alternative of " withdrawal " 


or " retreat/ 1 since " oddness " is not, like low or high temperature, 
a character which can be " destroyed/ 1 The whole " universe " 
might conceivably be reduced to a uniform low temperature, but 
not the number-series to a series with all its terms even.) 

We now apply these results to the case of the soul. Life is a 
necessary concomitant of the presence of a soul, as illness is of the 
presence of fever, or heat of the presence of fire. A soul always 
brings life with it to any body in which it is present. Now there 
is an " opposite " to life, namely, death. Hence we may say that 
a soul will never allow itself to be occupied by the opposite of 
the character it always carries with itself. That is, life may be 
essentially predicated of the soul and therefore death can never be 
predicated of it. Thus the soul is, in the literal sense of the word, 
" undying " (aiOdvaTos) ; that is, the phrase " a dead soul " would 
be a contradictio in adjecto. So much has now been actually de- 
monstrated (1050). 

Of course this does not take us the whole of the way we wish to 
go. What has been " demonstrated," and would probably not be 
denied by anyone, is that, properly speaking, " death " is a process 
which belongs to the bodily organism. It is the body which dies, 
speaking strictly, not its " mind/' But to prove that there is no 
such thing as a " dead soul," though there are dead bodies, does 
not prove that the soul oontinues to live after the body has died, 
and Socrates is well aware of this. His demonstration, on his own 
admission, leaves us with an alternative : since " dead " cannot be 
predicated of a soul, the soul must either be annihilated or must 
" retire " when the body dies. Socrates' faith is that the second 
member of the alternative is correct, but the emphatic " so much 
has been demonstrated " of 1050 8 seems to show that, when all 
is said, this remains for him an article of faith, not a demonstrated 
proposition of science. Our decision between the two alternatives 
will depend on the question whether the soul is not only " undying " 
but " imperishable " (di'u>\e#/>os). If it is, then we may safely 
say that what befalls it at death is merely " withdrawal elsewhere." 
He is not actually called on to argue this fresh point, since his 
auditors at once assert their conviction that if what is " undying " 
is not imperishable, nothing can be supposed to be so, whereas 
there are, in fact, imperishables, such as God, and " the form of 
life." Thus, in the end, the imperishability of the soul is accepted 
as a consequence of the standing conviction of all Greek religion 
that TO a.Quiva.Tov =TO $ctov =TO atfrQapTov. It is the soul's " divinity " 
which is, in the last resort, the ground for the hope of immortality, 
and the divinity of the soul is a postulate of a reasonable faith 
which the dialogue never attempts to " demonstrate." The last 
word of Socrates himself on the value of his demonstration is that its 
" primary postulates " (i.e. the " forms " and the divinity of the soul) 
really demand further examination (1076 5). 

This brings us to the real moral of the dialogue. As we have 


just seen, even if we are satisfied with the deduction of immortality 
from the doctrine of " forms," that doctrine itself is a postulate which 
is not exempt from reconsideration. But the mere admission that 
the hope of immortality is not irrational has a profound significance 
for the conduct of life. It follows that the " tendance of the soul " 
is incomparably the most serious of human interests, and the danger 
of neglecting this " tendance " the most awful to which we can 
expose ourselves. If death ends all, it may not matter so much 
what sort of soul a man has, since, in a few years, his wickedness 
will end with his life. But if the soul lives for ever, it takes with 
it into the unseen world nothing but its own intrinsic character for 
good or evil, and its unending future depends on that. This is 
really what the Orphic stories about the judgment of the dead 
should teach us. On the character we bring with us into the unseen 
world, our company there will depend, and our happiness and 
misery will depend on our company. As in the Gorgias and Re- 
public, the hope of immortality is thus used for a moral purpose. 
The value of faith in it is that it drives home the question what 
manner of men we ought to be, if there is an endless future before 
us, and thus invests the choice for moral good and evil with an 
awful importance it would otherwise not have (Phaedo lojc ; Rep. 
6oSb, 6zib-d. Plato enlarges on the same theme on his own 
account at Laws, 904^-9056). In the end, for Socrates and Plato, 
no less than for Kant, immortality is a postulate of the " practical " 
use of "reason." * 

I do not propose to make this chapter longer by dwelling either 
on the impressive myth in which Plato fits an imaginative picture 
of the future lot of the virtuous and the vicious into a framework 
supplied partly by a scheme of astronomy which seems to be Pytha- 
gorean, and possibly, as the admiring comment of Simmias at 109^ 
suggests, due to Philolaus, and subterranean geography which 
manifestly comes from Empedocles, or on the famous description 
of the last earthly moments of Socrates. I must be content to 
refer the reader to Burnet's commentary, and, for a study of the 
influence of the picture on later eschatology, to Professor J. A. 
Stewart's Myths of Plato. It is useless to discuss the question 
how much in these myths of the unseen represents a genuine " extra- 
belief " of either Socrates or Plato, and how much is conscious 
" symbolism." Probably neither philosopher could have answered 
the question himself. But we must bear in mind that Socrates 
regularly accompanies these stories with the warning (e.g. Phaedo, 
n^d) that no man of sense would put much confidence in the 
details, and that the one thing of serious moment is that we should 

1 If the question is asked whether the faith defended in the Phaedo is a 
belief in " personal " immortality, I can only reply that, though the language 
of philosophers was not to acquire a word for " personality " for many 
centuries, the faith of Socrates is a belief in the immortality of his ^i/xij, and 
by his ^vxt he means the seat or suppositum of all we call " personal character," 
and nothing else. " Tendance of the soul " is precisely what we call the 
development of " moral personality." 


live as befits men who are looking for a city that does not yet appear, 
and that the real object of " tending the soul " is to make us fit for 
citizenship in the eternal (Phaedo, 1156). From the historical 
point of view, the supremely interesting feature of this particular 
myth is that it is an attempt to get into one picture the flat earth 
of the old Ionian science and the spherical earth of the Pythagoreans, 
as Burnet notes. This is done by imagining the sphere of the earth 
to be of enormous magnitude and to contain a number of shallow 
depressions like that of the Mediterranean Each of these de- 
pressions will look very much like the flat earth of Anaximenes or 
Anaxagoras or Democritus. As Burnet says, some such recon- 
ciliation of the two cosmographies may have suggested itself at 
Athens in the middle of the fifth century to some one ; it would 
be absurd to suppose that it could ever have been entertained by 
contemporaries of Plato. 

See further : 

BURNET. Plato's Phaedo (Oxford, 1913) ; Greek Philosophy, 

Part /., Chapters IX.-X. 
RITTER, C. Platon, i. 532-586. 

RAEDER, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 168-181. 
NATORP, P. Platons Ideenlehre, 126-163. 
STEWART, J. A.Myths of Plato, 77-111 (The Phaedo Myth) ; 

Plato's Doctrine of Ideas, 39-47. 

NOTE. Plutarch's essay de Genio Socratis is rich in interesting 
traditions about Simmias and the Pythagoreans at Thebes. It de- 
scribes Pelopidas and his fellow-conspirators, who recaptured the 
citadel of Thebes from the Spartans in 379, as meeting for their enter- 
prise in the house of Simmias. Plutarch, as a Boeotian, was well informed 
on Theban matters and his story presumably has historical foundations. 


THE Symposium is perhaps the most brilliant of all Plato's 
achievements as a dramatic artist ; perhaps for that very 
reason, it has been worse misunderstood than any other of 
his writings. Even in its own day it was apparently quite mis- 
apprehended by Xenophon, if one may judge by the tone of the very 
inferior imitation of it in his own piece of the same name. Xenophon 
was led by the form of the dialogue to suppose that it is meant to 
deal with the sexual passion and to pit against it a Symposium of 
his own, which has as its climax a eulogy of the pleasures of married 
life. Our own and the last generation, with the poison of Romanti- 
cism in their veins, have gone farther and discovered that the dialogue 
anticipates William Blake's " prophecies " by finding the key to the 
universe in the fact of sex. This means that such readers have 
sought the teaching of the Symposium in the first instance in the 
Rabelaisian parody of a cosmogony put very appropriately into 
the mouth of Aristophanes. The very fact that this famous speech 
is given to the great ycXwroTrotos should, of course, have proved to 
an intelligent reader that the whole tale of the bi-sexual creatures 
is a piece of gracious Pantagruelism, and that Plato's serious purpose 
must be looked for elsewhere. Similarly, it is more from the Sym- 
posium than from any other source that soul-sick " romanticists " 
have drawn their glorification of the very un-Platonic thing they 
have named " platonic love/' a topic on which there is not a word 
in this or any other writing of Plato. We must resolutely put 
fancies like these out of our heads from the first if we mean to 
understand what the real theme of the dialogue is. We must 
remember that Eros, in whose honour the speeches of the dialogue 
are delivered, was a cosmogonic figure whose significance is hope- 
lessly obscured by mere identification with the principle of " sex." 
We must also remember that the scene is a festive one, and that 
the tone of most of the speeches is consequently more than half 
playful, and rightly so, as the gaiety of the company is meant to 
set off by contrast the high seriousness of the discourse of Socrates. 
It is there that we are to find Plato's deepest meaning, and when 
we come to that speech we shall find that the " love " of which he 
speaks the praises is one which has left sexuality far behind, an 
amor mysticus which finds its nearest modern counterpart in the 
writers who have employed the imagery of Canticles to set forth 
the love of the soul for its Creator. 



In form the dialogue is an indirectly reported drama. The 
actual narrator, Apollodorus of Phalerum, a friend of Socrates (who 
is mentioned at Apol. 386 as one of the persons who offered to give 
security for a fine of thirty minae, and at Phaedo iijd as breaking 
into hysterical tears when Socrates drained the hemlock, and again 
by Xenophon as a constant attendant on the master, at Mem. iii. 
ii, 17), repeats to some friends the story of the banquet held in 
honour of the first tragic victory of the poet Agathon. Apollo- 
dorus is too young to have been present, but had the story direct 
from an eyewitness, Aristodemus, of the deme Cydathenaeum, 
apparently the same person as the Aristodemus whom Xenophon 
makes Socrates take to task (Mem. i. I, 4) for his neglect of public 
worship. The time of narration is supposed to be " a good number 
of years " (1720) after Agathon's retirement from Athens. When 
that was we do not know, except that it was after the production 
of Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae (411) and before that of the 
Frogs (405), so that the actual narration must be supposed to be given 
some time in the last few years of the fifth century. The real object 
of introducing all these particulars seems to be to remind us that 
Plato himself could not have been present at the banquet, and 
does not therefore pretend to guarantee the historical accuracy of 
the narrative in detail. 

It is more interesting to remark the careful way in which the 
spirit of the time is kept up in the account of the banquet itself. 
Not only is the occasion itself, the first public victory of a new poet, 
a festive one, but the year is one in which the temper of the Imperial 
city itself was exceptionally joyous and high. The date is only a 
few months before the sailing of the great Armada which was 
confidently expected to make the conquest of Sicily a mere stepping- 
stone to unlimited expansion, possibly to the conquest of Carthage 
(Thuc. vi. 15) ; the extraordinary tone of v/fyus characteristic of 
Alcibiades in the dialogue becomes much more explicable when we 
remember that at the moment of speaking he was the commander- 
designate of such an enterprise and drunk with the ambitions 
Thucydides ascribes to him quite as much as with wine. We note 
that Aristophanes also is depicted as he must have been at the height 
of his powers, when the Birds and the Lysistrata were yet to be 
written, not as the broken man, whom Plato might have known 
personally, who could sink to the tiresome dirtiness of the 
Ecclesiazusae. In a few months' time the whole situation was 
changed by the scandal about the Hermae and the profanation 
of the mysteries ; Alcibiades was an exile at Sparta, bent on ruining 
the city which had disgraced him, and there is good reason to think 
that at least two other speakers in our dialogue (Eryximachus and 
Phaedrus) were badly implicated in the same affair. 7 For the 
8^0? itself, the year may be said to have been the crisis of its fate. 
It had staked its all on a great aggressive bid for Weltmacht and the 
bid failed. The city never recovered the loss of men and material ; 
1 For the evidence see Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Part /., 190-191. 


the commander of whom she had made a deadly enemy was the 
man who taught the thick-witted Spartans where to deal her the 
wound which would, in the end, prove fatal. It is part of Plato's 
consummate art that he hints at nothing of this. He fixes the 
mood of the time and of the man of the time, " flown with insolence 
and wine," with complete objectivity and without after-thought, 
as a background to set off the figure of " philosophy " incarnated in 
Socrates. 1 

INTRODUCTION (1720-1780). Aristodemus, then, related that, 
the day after Agathpn's victory, he met Socrates in very unusual 
" festal array," on his way to Agathon's dinner-party and accepted 
his proposal to join him. On the way Socrates fell into one of his 
ecstasies and left his companion to enter Agathon's house, where 
he was warmly welcomed, alone. Agathon knew enough of 
Socrates' habits not to be startled by learning that he was standing 
" tranced " in the doorway of the next house. He did not make 
his appearance until dinner was half over, when he took his seat 
by Agathon in the gayest of humours. When the dinner was 
finished, the party resolved, on the advice of the physician Eryxi- 
machus, that there should be no enforced deep " potting " and no 
flute-playing. They would entertain themselves, as sensible men 
should, with discourses. Phaedrus, another member of the party, 
had often remarked on the singular fact that though so many 
persons and things have been made subjects of eulogy, no one has 
as yet made an adequate eulogy of Eros. 2 It would be a good way 
of spending the evening if each member of the party would deliver 
such a eulogy, beginning with Phaedrus, as the source of the pro- 
posal. Socrates fell in at once with the suggestion which, he 
declared, suited him admirably, as the " science of love " was the 
only science he possessed. 

The main object of this little introduction is plainly to call our 
attention to a marked feature in the character of Socrates. He is at 
heart a mystic and there is something " other-worldly " about him. 
We shall hear a great deal more about this later on from Alcibiades 
when he describes Socrates' long " rapt " in the trenches before 
Potidaea, an experience which may have had a great significance 

1 I do not think it necessary, with Mr. R. G. Bury, to look for any hidden 
meaning in the references made by Apollodorus to a less accurate narrative of 
the scene given by a certain Phoenix. These touches are intended merely to 
suggest that thfi incidents had aroused a good deal of interest and been much 
talked about. I do not believe that there is any reason to suppose that 
Plato is replying to charges made in the KaTarjyopla. Sow/wlrou* of Polycrates 
anywhere in our dialogue. If he had done so, we should probably have learned 
something about the matter from Xenophon or from the Apologia of Lib- 
anius (which shows signs of a knowledge of Polycrates' pamphlet). 

1 Mr. Bury naturally reminds us that there is a chorus about Eros in the 
Antigone and another in the Hippolytus. But the ode of the Antigone (781- 
80 1 ) deals with the ruin and havoc Eros causes and the crimes to which he 
prompts even " the just." That of the Hippolytus (525-564) is similarly a 
prayer against his u tyrannical " violence. Neither can be called a eulogy. 
Cf. E. Bevan, Hellenism and Christianity t pp. 93 ff. 


for his " mission." A minor experience of the same kind is intro- 
duced at the outset to prepare us for this narrative and for the high 
" other-worldliness " of Socrates 1 own discourse on Eros. But, 
as with other great mystics, Socrates' other-worldliness is compatible 
with being a " man of the world " in the best sense and knowing 
how to adapt himself readily to the mood of the gayest of com- 
panies. (It is worth noting that the biographers of the fervent 
" ecstatic " St. Francis Xavier dwell on precisely the same com- 
bination of qualities as part of the secret of his influence over 
company of every kind, and that Xavier himself, in his instructions 
to his remplagants, lays almost as much stress on the importance of 
knowing how to win men by being " good company " as on that of 
intense secret devotion.) 

Speech of Phaedrus (ij$a-i8ob). Phaedrus is known to us 
chiefly from the part he plays in the dialogue called after him, 
where he appears as an amateur of rhetoric and a fervid admirer 
of the fashionable stylist of the moment, Lysias, in contradistinction 
to Socrates, who regards Lysias as intellectually inferior to the, as 
yet, little known Isocrates. Socrates is made to say of him there 
(Phaedrus, 2426) that he has been the cause of more " discourses," 
either by delivering them himself or being the occasion of their 
delivery by other men, than any living person, if we leave Simmias 
of Thebes out of account. If we may trust the list of names in- 
serted in Andocides i. 15, he was among the persons accused, a few 
months after Agathon's dinner, of having " profaned the mysteries " 
(unless, though this is not so likely, the reference is to some other 
Phaedrus). In Lysias xix. 15 he is said to have fallen into poverty, 
but " not through vicious courses." There is a well-known epigram 
in the Anthology, ascribed to Plato, which makes him an epw/xcvos of 
the author, but, since Phaedrus was a man in 416 when Plato was 
a small boy, this is chronologically impossible. 1 

The speech of Phaedrus is properly made jejune and common- 
place, for a double reason. As a point of art, it is necessary to 
begin with the relatively tame and commonplace in order to lead 
up by a proper crescendo to the climax to be reached in the discourse 
of Socrates. And the triviality and vulgar morality of the dis- 
course is in keeping with the character of the speaker as depicted 
for us in the Phaedrus. Phaedrus understands by Eros sexual 
passion, and particularly passion of this kind between two persons 
of the same sex. At Athens these relations were regarded as 
disgraceful both by law 2 and, as the next speaker in our dialogue 
will remind us, by general opinion, but literature shows that they 

1 Of course the Phaedrus of the epigram might be another person. But 
when we find Agathon and Phaedrus figuring in an Ipvrtfcfo Xifyo? by Plato 
and also appearing as tpw^vot in epigrams ascribed to Plato, it is surely most 
likely that the epigrams were composed and fathered on Plato by some later 
author who had read the Symposium and forgotten that it is Socrates and 
not Plato who poses playfully there as an tywTi/c6s. 

1 For the attitude of Attic law to ircuSepaorfa, the great source of informa- 
tion is the speech of Aeschines against Timarchus. 


were in fact cultivated particularly by the " upper classes " as 
part of the general craze for imitation of Sparta. It is important 
to remember that all such aberrations were strongly disapproved 
by the viri Socratici. The present dialogue and the Phaedrus are 
complete evidence for the theory and practice of Socrates ; Plato's 
attitude in the Laws is the same. At Laws 6366 it is made a 
special reproach to Sparta to have set an example of such " corrup- 
tions," and their complete suppression in a really moral society is 
taken as a matter of course at S^id. 1 Xenophon's attitude is the 

The argument of the speech is that Eros is entitled to honour 
on two grounds (a) his noblesse, as proved by his antiquity, and 
(b) the advantages he bestows on us. The.fireLpPintis_Stablishfid 
by an appeal to Hesiod and the cosmqgonists generally,, who ^pre- 
suppose Eros the impulse_tQ ^generation as an_ original Jirst 
principle of the universe. It is brought in as a regular common- 
place of encomiasts, who are fond of dwelling on the " pedigree " of 
their hero. (Socrates regarded this pride of birth as pure vanity 
as he tells us at Theactet. ij$a-b, where he criticizes the common 
run of panegyrists on this ground.) The second point is supposed 
to be proved by the argument that " love " is the most powerful of 
incitements to ambition. A lover will do anything and endure 
anything to win the admiration of his " beloved " and avoid dis- 
gracing himself in his eyes. (Note then that Phaedrus has no 
conception of any " good " surpassing that of the " lover of 
honours. 11 ) Hence an army of " lovers/' if one could be raised, 
would be invincible. In short, the great service which Eros renders 
to men is that he inspires them with /xeW ("prowess"). (This 
was, in fact, exactly the view taken in Spartan and other Dorian 
communities, where " homo-sexual love " in its coarsest form was 
encouraged because it was believed to contribute to military 
" chivalry." 2 ) The point is illustrated by the cases of Alcestis 
who died for her " love " Admetus, and Achilles who died for his 
" lover " Patroclus. Heaven rewarded this devotion by restoring 
Alcestis to life 3 and translating Achilles to the " isles of the blest." 
Orpheus, a mere " chicken-hearted " musician, was not allowed 
to recover his Eurydice, because he had not the " pluck " to 
die for her but sneaked down to the house of Hades without 
dying. In substance, then, the speech simply amounts to a 
defence of an unnatural practice on the plea of its military 
value. It is an apologia for the theory and practice of Sparta. 

1 These considerations show that we must not put a gross interpretation 
on the passing remark of Socrates at Rep. 468^. The reference is merely to 
innocent marks of affection and admiration which the younger people are to 
show to the brave soldier, and is half playful in tone. 

1 On this aspect of the subject see in particular the instructive article of 
Bethe (Rheinisches Museum, Ixii. 438 fL). 

8 Symp. 1796. Apart from the play of Euripides, which Phaedrus prob- 
ably has in his mind, this is the first reference in extant Greek literature to 
the famous story. 



In manner it is a poor and inadroit " encomium " of a common- 
place type. 1 

Speech of Pausanias (i8oc-i8$c). Pausanias is virtually an 
unknown figure to us. He appears also in the Protagoras (the 
supposed date of which must be roughly some twenty years before 
416), in company with Agathon, then a mere stripling, and Socrates 
is there made to say playfully that he should not be surprised if 
the pair are "lovers" (Prot. 315^). Xenophon has dutifully 
worked him in in his own imitation of the Symposium (viii. 32), 
where he is said to be the " lover of the poet Agathon " and to have 
" defended homo-sexual vice/' 2 This, however, is merely a Platonic 
reminiscence. Xenophon has taken the remark of Socrates in the 
Protagoras with dull literalness and gone on to attribute to Pausanias 
the remark about an " army of lovers " actually made in our 
dialogue by Phaedrus. 

The speech of Pausanias, unlike that of Phaedrus, really does 
attempt to take account of specifically Athenian moral sentiment, 
and is much more elaborately worked out in point of form. He is 
dissatisfied with Phaedrus on moral grounds, because he has drawn 
no distinction between worthy and criminal "love." The dis- 
tinction is even prefigured in mythology, which recognizes a differ- 
ence between a " heavenly " Aphrodite, daughter of Uranus without 
any mother, and a " vulgar " (TTCIV^/AOS) Aphrodite, daughter of 
Zeus and Dione. Since Aphrodite is the mother of Eros, we must 
consequently distinguish between a " heavenly " and an earthly 
or " vulgar " Eros. The one is admirable, the other not. In fact 
so far Pausanias agrees with Socratic ethics there is a right and a 
wrong in all human activities, and consequently there must be a 
right and a wrong way of " being in love. 11 

The "..low 'Ifonn^oflQY^hasjtwp characteristics : (i) its object 
may be of eiffier'sex, and (a)^hat Tt loves in that object is the body 
rather than the soul, and this is why the vulgar lover prefers his 
beloved to be ,empty-Tiiea3eJ "J&o^fos) and ther^f^^n~ea^ 
qu8^^1The/ r 5eaveri^"_lpve is all mas^ttnrmTlils'ccmpos^n. 
The object of this love is therefore always male anoTtTie passion is i 
free from " grossness " (v/fyis). It is directed not on the young) 
and pretty but on an object just on the verge of manhood, a person 
whose character promises assured lifelong friendship. 

To this distinction corresponds the apparently self-contra- 
dictory character of the Attic " use and wont " in respect of Eros. 
In some communities, such as Elis and Boeotia, the " vulgar " and 
the more refined Eros are both permitted, in the Ionian cities both 
are regarded as disgraceful. This is because Eleans and Boeotians 

1 Cf. Bury, Symposium, p. xxv. But he is unjust to the " sophists " in 
suggesting that it is a fair specimen of their performances, and 1 think he 
would be nearer the mark if he had said that the moral standpoint of the 
speech is that of an average Spartan, than he is in speaking of " the average 
citizen " of Athens. 

1 For another clear echo of our dialogue, cp. Xen. op. cit. ii, 26 with 
Symp, igSc 3. There are plenty of others. 


are dull and stupid ; lonians have been inured to slavish conformity 
to institutions which serve the purposes of their Persian masters. 
Eros, philosophy, bodily culture, are all discouraged by the Persians 
as influences unfavourable to acquiescence in despotism. At 
Athens and Sparta (this last statement can hardly be strictly true) 
social custom is not so simple. Use and wont are divided ; public 
opinion " loves a lover " and sympathizes with all his extravagances, 
but the young, on the other hand, are expected to resist his advances 
and promises, and parents and relatives take all possible care to 
protect their charges against them. (Just as in a " romantic " 
society it is thought honourable in a man to practise "gallantry," 
but the point of female honour to be " cruel " to the gallant.) The 
explanation of this apparent contradiction is that the difficulties 
put in the way of the " lover " are intended to make it certain that he 
loves with the higher and celestial kind of Eros, directed to the soul, 
and that the " beloved " is won not by the wealth or social posi- 
tion of the lover but by his genuine " goodness " and " intelligence/' 
In some respects the speech is morally on a higher level than 
that of Phaedrus. It_is a real contribution _to__the discusslpii_tp 
introduce as fundamentaTijie,^^ 

ignoble u love? 1 And Pausanias is sp^jai; foljowingji right instinct 
^HeipSESS^^thejib^le , fr Tove " ind^er^erit of obvious physical 
jjrettiness and attractiveness and maintains that it^'^bjet-Js^a 
consortium totius vitae in^thHIIes:Lsense oftlie words. So far he is 
irFaCCord"wTth the distinction we should draw ourselves between 
the love that is little more than a sensual weakness and the love 
which can lead to a " marriage of true minds." To this extent, I 
cannot agree with the disparaging estimate of Mr. Bury (Symp. 
xxvii). That Pausanias conceives of a consortium totius vitae as only 
possible between a younger and an older male is to be explained by 
the Attic neglect of the intellectual and moral education of the 
womenfolk of the citizens. There is no possibility of the " shared 
life " where one of the partners is an intelligent human being and 
the other a spoilt child or a domestic animal, and it is fair to re- 
member this when we find Pausanias assuming that all love of 
women belongs to the ignoble kind. On the other hand, Pausanias' 
conception of the noble Eros is pitched far too low. As his inclusion 
of Sparta as one of the places where the distinction is recognized 
would be enough to show, he quite definitely means to give his 
approval to what Socrates and Plato, like ourselves, regard as not 
merely " guilty " but " unnatural," provided that it is made the 
basis for a permanent life of intimate devotion. The persons on 
whom he bestows unqualified admiration as having achieved the 
perfection of human excellence are just those whom Socrates is 
made to treat in the Phaedrus much as we should treat the " knight " 
who is spurred to chivalrous exploits by a love which, though 
" sinful," is not merely " carnal." (Unlike Socrates, Pausanias 
would clearly never have understood why Sir Lancelot came short 
in the spiritual quest of the Sangraal.) He does, indeed, expect 


passion to be " sanctified " by being pressed into the service of 
" goodness/ 1 but his conception of " goodness/ 1 if it is not as crude 
as that of Phaedrus, who makes it equivalent to mere " prowess/' is 
still unspiritual. Harmodius and Aristogiton who " slew the 
tyrant " furnish him with his standard of " noble love " and its 
services to man. On the formal merit of the speech, as judged by 
the rules of "epidictic" introduced to Athens by Gorgias, see the 
remarks of Mr. Bury in his edition of the dialogue (Introduction, 

Interlude and Speech of Eryximachus (1850-1880). We must not 
forget that we are listening to the speeches delivered at a gay party 
by guests, many of whom are in a merely festive humour. The 

f-ave moral issues which have been raised by the magnification of 
ros will receive their proper treatment when we come to the great 
discourse of Socrates, but before Plato can so much as introduce 
that, he must raise the imaginative level of the conversation to a 
pitch at which the first crude glorification of " passion " only 
survives in an undertone. Otherwise, there will be far too violent 
a " modulation into a different key." This function of desensualis- 
ing the imaginative tone of the dialogue is to be achieved by making 
the speech of Socrates follow directly on one by Agathon, which is 
a brilliant but passionless and fanciful tissue of jewelled conceits. 
Even this needs to have the way prepared for it, if we are not to be 
conscious of too violent a change of mood. Hence the two inter- 
posed speeches of Eryximachus and Aristophanes with the little 
interlude which introduces them. The tone of this part of the 
dialogue is wholly playful, and I think it would be a mistake to 
regard it as anything more than a delightful specimen of " Panta- 
gruelism." The numerous persons who are unhappily without 
anything of the Pantagruelist in their own composition will con- 
tinue, no doubt, to look for hidden meanings in this section of the 
Symposium, as they look for them in Rabelais, and with much the 
same kind of success. Fortunately, we need not imitate them, 
any more than we need take Rabelais' book to be a disguised 
treatise on the " new monarchy." 

It was now, we are told, the turn of Aristophanes to speak, but 
as he was impeded by a hiccough, the physician Eryximachus under- 
took to speak out of order as well as to prescribe for the poet's 
"passing indisposition." Hidden allusions have been suspected 
in this simple incident, but without reason. Aristophanes, one 
of the sturdy topers of the party (1766), is held up, when his turn 
to speak comes, by an accident which is a small joke in itself ; the 
medical man of the group, who also happens to be a sober soul 
(1760) not able to carry much liquor, gives him professional aid and 
fills up what would otherwise be a gap in the evening's programme. 
There is nothing here which calls for a " serious " explanation. 

Eryximachus is presumably the same person as the Eryximachus 
who was implicated in the business of the " profaning of the 
mysteries " (Andoc. i. 35) ; at least, there was a certain Acumenus 


who was also among the denounced (ibid. i. 18), and the name is 
a very unusual one, so that it looks as though the denounced persons 
were our physician and his father. He is, we might almost say, 
the F.R.S. of Agathon's party, and all his behaviour is strictly 
in character. He announces himself from the first as a very 
" moderate drinker/' and, as Mr. Bury observes, takes his departure 
later on, as soon as the scene has become one of wild revelry. His 
speech is carefully adapted to his character and profession. It is, 
in fact, under the guise of a panegyric of Eros, a little discourse 
on the principles of " science/' especially of medical science. The 
scientific, and particularly the medical man, is the real repository 
of the secrets of love. The style of the speech is appropriately 
sober, free from the artifices of rhetoric and marked by a plentiful 
use of professional terminology. We may, with Mr. Bury, call 
him a " pedant/ 1 if we do him the justice to believe that the pedantry 
is, of course, part of the fun of the evening and is presumably 
intentional. The learned man is presumably amusing himself, 
as an eminent man of science might do to-day in an after-dinner 
speech, by making a little decorous " game " of his own professional 
occupations. I see no need to suppose that Plato intends any serious 
satire on the " science " of the speaker, especially as it represents 
the views of the Sicilian medical school, the very type of biology 
from which both Plato and Aristotle draw the biological analogies 
which play so large a part in their ethics. 

Eryximachus opens his speech by giving emphatic assent to 
the distinction between a good and a bad Eros, but protests against 
looking for the effects of these contrasted forces exclusively in the 
souls of men. - They can be traced everywhere in the structure of 
the universe, no less than in the human organism. 1 This may be 
illustrated from medicine. The healthy and the diseased con- 
stituents of the body have both their " cravings " ; there are whole- 
some appetitions and morbid appetitions. The business of medical 
science is to gratify the one and check the other. We might define 
the science as " knowledge of the body's passions for repletion and 
evacuation," and the man who can tell which of these " passions " 
are healthy and which " morbid," and can replace the morbid 
cravings in his patient by healthy ones, is the complete physician. 
The body is, in fact, composed of " opposites " which are at strife 
with one another, the hot, the cold, the dry, the moist, etc. ; medi- 
cine is the art which produces " love and concord " between these 
opposites. The task of " gymnastic/' agriculture, music, is pre- 
cisely similar, and this may be what Heraclitus meant by saying, 
"It is drawn together in being drawn apart/ 1 and talking of the 
" concord of opposites/' though his language is inadequate, since 
in the establishment of " concord," the previous " opposition " is 

1 1866, Kdl KO.T dvOpu)irtva Kal Karb Beta irpdynara, i.e. not only in biology but 
in physics. The 6eta here gets its meaning from the habit, universal in 
Ionian science, of giving the name 06$ or Oeot, in a purely secular sense, to 
the assumed primitive body or bodies. 


cancelled out and disappears. In music, again, we can distinguish 
the " good " and the " bad " Eros. The " good Eros " is exemplified 
by those scales in which a really cultivated taste takes pleasure, 
the " bad " by those which tickle the fancy of the vulgar. So in 
the wider world of the physicist, a good and healthy climate is a 
right and equable " temperament " (K/mo-ts) of heat and cold, rain 
and dry weather, a bad climate is an instance of the " violent " 
Eros ; it is an unhealthy " blend " of heat and cold, dry and wet 
weather. Astronomy thus is another science of " love.' 1 So, 
there is a " good " and a " bad " Eros of gods and men ; a religious 
and an irreligious way of sacrificing and interpreting signs and 
portents, and the professional knowledge of the priest and seer 
becomes another example of the science of Erotics. 

Thus the point of the speech is to insist on the cosmic signi- 
ficance of Eros. The underlying thought is that nature is every- 
where made up of " opposites," which need to be combined or 
supplemented by one another ; they may be combined either in 
proportions which make for stability, and then the result is tem- 
perate climate, health, prosperity, tranquillity, or in proportions 
which lead to instability, and the result is then cataclysms of nature, 
disease, misfortune, violent and unwholesome excitement. The 
business of science in all cases is to discover the proportions upon 
which the " good " results depend. The sources of the doctrine 
are easily indicated. We detect the influence of the Heraclitean 
conception of the balance of " exchanges " as the explanation of 
the seeming permanences of the world-order, the Pythagorean 
doctrine that all things are combinations of " opposites," and of the 
special biological working out of the thought which is characteristic 
of the philosophy of Empedocles, the founder of Sicilian medicine. 
The general point of view, as German scholars have pointed out, 
is much like that of some of the treatises of the Hippocratean 
corpus, notably the Trcpt SICU'TTJS a', in which the attempt is made to 
find a speculative foundation for medicine in the Heraclitean 
cosmology. The only inference we are entitled to draw is that the 
main ideas of Sicilian medicine could be presumed to be generally 
known to cultivated persons at Athens in the last third of the fifth 
century, as is, in fact, shown abundantly by the use made of 
analogies based upon them all through the ethical dialogues of 
Plato For the argument of the Symposium itself the chief function 
of the speech is to divert attention from the topic of sex, as must 
be done if sex itself is to be treated with the necessary philosophic 
detachment in the discourse of Socrates, and to call attention to 
the universal cosmic significance of the conception of the recon- 
ciliation of " opposites " in a higher " harmony." This preludes 
to the discourse of Socrates, where we shall find that the principle 
has actually a supra-cosmic significance. Meanwhile, the intro- 
duction of this thought of Eros as a " world-building " principle 
provides the starting-point for the brilliant and characteristic 
burlesque cosmogony put into the mouth of Aristophanes. 


Speech of Aristophanes (1890-1 93^ .^-To the general reader, 
this is perhaps the best-known section of the whole dialogue, and 
one of the best-known passages in the whole of Plato. It is the 
more important to avoid misapprehending its purpose, which is 
simply humorous and dramatic. We should note that the speech 
itself is introduced by a thoroughly Aristophanic jest, and that the 
poet tells us in so many words that he means to live up to his pro- 
fession by being " funny." The speech itself may be very briefly 
summarized. In the beginning man was a " round " creature 
with four arms and four legs and two faces, looking different ways, 
but joined at the top to make a single head. There were three 
" sexes/' if we can call them so, of these creatures, the double-male, 
double-female, and male-female, the first derived from the sun, 
the second from the earth, the third from the moon, which is at once 
a " luminary " and an "earth." But as yet there was no sexual 
love and no sexual generation. The race procreated itself by a 
literal fertilization of the soil. These creatures were as masterful 
as they were strong and threatened to storm heaven or blockade 
it, as we learn from the old traditions about the " giants." As a 
measure of safety, Zeus split them longitudinally down the middle 
and reconstructed them so that their method of propagation should 
henceforth be sexual. Since then, man is only half a complete 
creature, and each half goes about with a passionate longing to find 
its complement and coalesce with it again. This longing for re- 
union with the lost half of one's original self is what we call " love," 
and until it is satisfied, none of us can attain happiness. Ordinary 
wedded love between man and woman is the reunion of two halves 
of one of the originally double-sexed creatures ; passionate attach- 
ment between two persons of the same sex is the reunion of the 
halves of a double-male or a double-female, as the case may be. If 
we continue in irreligion, it is to be feared that Zeus may split us 
again, and leave us to hop on one leg with one arm and half a face. 

As I have said, the brilliance of this fanciful speech must not 
blind us to the fact that it is in the main comedy, and that the real 
meaning of the dialogue must not be looked for in it. Plato is 
careful to remind us that the speaker is a professional jester ; he is 
too good an artist to have made the remark without a purpose, 
or to have discounted the effect of the disccurse of his hero Socrates 
by providing his dialogue with two centres of gravity. To be sure, 
there are touches of earnest under the mirth of his Aristophanes, 
as there always are under the wildest fun of the actual historical 
Aristophanes. There is real tenderness in Aristophanes' descrip- 
tion of the love-lorn condition of the creature looking for its lost 
" half," and a real appreciation of unselfish devotion to the comrade 
who is one's " second self." Aristophanes shows more real feeling 
than any of the speakers who have been heard so far. It is also 
true that he is making a distant approximation to the conception, 
which Socrates will develop, of love as the longing of the soul for 
union with its true good. But the distance is even more marked 


than the approximation. The goal of love, as Socrates conceives 
it, is not incorporation with a mate of flesh and blood, nor even 
lifelong "marriage" with a "kindred mind/' but the Upos ya/xos 
of the soul with the " eternal wisdom " in a region " all breathing 
human passion far above." The passion Aristophanes describes 
is that which finds its most lapidary, perhaps its most perfect 
expression in Dante's canzone Cosl nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro, 
not that which animates the Paradiso, the " female love " which 
Blake would have us give up before we can see " eternity." It is 
in keeping with this that Aristophanes, like Pausanias, relegates 
the love of men for women to the lowest plane, on the ground that 
the woman is the "weaker vessel," the "earthy" ingredient in our 
original composition, thus denying the Socratic and Platonic tenet 
that " the goodness of a man and of a woman are the same," and 
proves his point by the allegation (192^) that those who are sensible 
of female attractions show themselves inferior in " politics." (Like 
Pausanias, he has no conception of any worthier life than that of the 
" lover of honours.") 

We may put the discourse in its true light by a consideration 
of its obvious sources. In the first place, I think it is clear that in 
composing the speech Plato had in view the brilliant burlesque of 
an Orphic cosmogony in Aristophanes' own Birds (693-703), where 
also Eros is the great primitive cosmic active force. From the Birds 
comes again the suggestion of the danger that the gods might run 
if the turbulent round-bodied creatures cut off the supply of sacri- 
fices, the very method by which the birds of the play reduce 
Olympus to unconditional surrender. As for the details of the 
story, I think it is clear that they are a humorous parody of 
Empedocles. Creatures in whom both sexes are united figure in 
his cosmology (Fr. 61), along with the " men with the heads of 
oxen " and similar monsters, as appearing in the early stages of the 
evolutionary cycle to which we belong, the period of the world's 
history in which " strife " is steadily disintegrating the " sphere " by 
dissociating the complexes into their constituent " roots." This 
is enough to provide a hint for the construction of the whole narra- 
tive. We know that the theories of Empedocles became known at 
Athens in the fifth century. The Phaedo represents Socrates and 
his friends as well acquainted with them, and Aristotle tells us that 
a certain Critias we may safely identify him with Plato's great- 
grandfather, the Critias of the Timaeus and Critias had expressly 
adopted one of them, the view that " we think with our blood." * 
As the Clouds and Birds are enough to prove, Aristophanes was 
fairly well at home in the doctrines of the men of science of whom 
he made fun, and it is quite in keeping with Plato's dramatic 
realism that he should be made to burlesque Empedocles, exactly 
as he has burlesqued Diogenes and the Orphic cosmologists in his 
extant comedies. It is from this humorous burlesque (carefully 
" bowdlerized " to suit Christianized ethics, bien entendu), that the 
l de Anima, 40566. 


popular misconceptions about so-called " platonic love " seem to 
have taken their origin. 

There are now only two members of the party who have still 
to speak, Agathon and Socrates. A little by-play passes (1930-1940), 
which has no purpose beyond that of enhancing our anticipation 
and making it clear that their speeches are to be the " event " of 
the evening. It is worth noting that Plato is ready on occasion to 
turn the humour against the foibles of his own hero. Socrates is 
allowed, after his fashion, to put an apparently simple question, 
simply that he may be called to order ; if he were not checked, the 
programme would be ruined by the substitution of a dialectical 
discussion for a eulogy. To be sure, when it comes to Socrates' 
turn to speak, he gets his way after all and we are plunged into 
dialectic whether we like it or not ; this is part of the fun. 

The two speeches marked out as supremely important are 
wrought with even more art than any of those which have preceded. 
In form, as in matter, they exhibit the tension between opposites 
which is the life of a drama at its acutest pitch. Agathon is morally 
commonplace, cold in feeling, superficial in thought, for the lack of 
which he compensates by a free employment of all the artificial 
verbal patterns popularized by Gorgias; his encomium is a suc- 
cession of frozen conceits with no real thought behind them 
litter ature in the worst sense of the word. Socrates is, as usual, 
simple and direct in manner ; he begins what he has to say in the 
usual conversational tone of his " dialectic/' though, before he 
has done, the elevation of his thought leads to a spontaneous eleva- 
tion in style, and he ends on a note of genuine eloquence which 
leaves all the " fine language " of Agathon hopelessly in the shade. 
He is on fire with his subject, but with the clear, white-hot glow 
of a man whose very passion is intellectual. He thinks intensely 
where Agathon, and fine gentlemen like him, are content to talk 
prettily. And we are not allowed to forget that Agathon 's pro- 
fession is the " stage " ; he is the " actor/' impressing an audience 
with emotions he simulates but does not feel ; Socrates is the 
genuine man who " speaks from the heart " and to the heart. 
(Note the adroit way in which this point is worked in at 1946.) 

Speech of Agathon (1940-1970). The whole speech is a masterly 
parody of the detestable " prose-poetry " of Gorgias, as will readily 
be seen by comparing it with the specimens of the original article 
which time has spared to us. It may be summarized, when divested 
of its verbal extravagances, as follows. Previous speakers have 
ignored the main point which a eulogy should make ; they have 
talked about the gifts of Eros to men rather than about his intrinsic 
qualities. It is these on which the eulogist should dwell, (i) Eros 
is the most beautiful of all gods ; for (a) he is the youngest of all, 
not the oldest as Phaedrus and his cosmologists pretend. The 
" wars in heaven " would never have happened if Eros had held 
sway then. Also he is eternally fair and young and consorts with 
youth, not with " crabbed age/ 1 (b) He is " soft " (dTraXos) and 


tender, and that is why he makes his dwelling in the tenderest 
place he can find, the soul, and only in souls whose temper is yielding 
(/xaXa/coV). (c) He is " pliant " (y/>6s TO cl^os), can wind his way 
imperceptibly in and out of the inmost recesses of the soul. 
(d) He is comely and lovely and bright of hue, and that is why he 
will not settle and gather honey from a body or soul which is " past 
its flower." (2) He has all the virtues : J (a) justice, for he neither 
does nor suffers violence. He cannot suffer from it, for love is 
unconstrained, and he never inflicts it, for all things are his willing 
slaves and nemini volenti fit iniuria. (b) Temperance, for he 
"masters all pleasures" (an idle verbal quibble), (c) Valour, for 
he can master Ares, the "warrior famoused for fights." (d) Wis- 
dom ; he is the author of mediciae, as Eryximachus had said ; he 
inspires poetry in the most unpoetical and must therefore be himself 
a supreme poet. He shows his wisdom, further, in being the con- 
triver of all generation and the teacher of all crafts. It was love, 
love of the beautiful, which inspired the various gods who were 
their discoverers. In the beginning, when necessity held sway, 
heaven itself was a place of horror ; the birth of Eros has thus been 
the cause of all that is good in heaven and on earth. In short, 
Eros is the giver of peace among men, calm in air and sea, tranquil 
sleep which relieves our cares, mirth, jollity and here the speech 
loses itself in a torrent of flowery phrases, which "bring down the 
house," as they were meant to do. 

We see, of course, as Plato means that we shall, the barrenness 
of thought which all this euphuism cannot conceal. In a way, the 
praise of Eros, in Agathon's mouth, has " lost all its grossness," by 
transmutation into unmeaning prettiness, but it has incidentally 
lost all its reality. The discourse has all the insincerity of the con- 
ventional petrarchising sonneteer. Like the sonneteering tribe, 
Agathon is so intoxicated by his own fine-filed phrases, that he is 
evidently not at all clear which Eros he is belauding, the " heavenly " 
or the " vulgar." For the euphuist's purpose, this really does not 
matter much ; the theme of his discourse is to him no more than a 
peg on which to hang his garlands of language. There had been real 
feeling, under all the burlesque and the grossness, in the speech of 
Aristophanes ; from Agathon we get only " words, words, words/' 
Socrates indicates as much in the humorous observations which 
introduce his own contribution to the entertainment. He really 
began to be afraid, as Agathon grew more and more dithyrambic, 
that he might be petrified and struck dumb by the " Gorgias' head/' 
He bethought himself, now that it was too late, that he had been 
rash in undertaking to deliver a eulogy at all. In the simplicity 
of his heart, he had supposed that all he would have to do would 
be to say the best which could be truthfully said of his subject. But 
it now appears that the eulogist is expected to glorify his subject at 
all " costs," regardless of truth. This is more than Socrates engaged 

1 Note that the list of the " cardinal virtues " is taken for granted as 
familiar. Thus it is no discovery of Plato or of Socrates. 


to do, or can do. Like Hippolytus in the play, he is " unsworn in 
soul," and must be allowed to deliver his speech in his own artless 
fashion, telling the truth and leaving the style to take care of itself, 
or the result may be a ridiculous collapse. And he must make one 
more little stipulation. Perhaps Agathon would answer one or 
two questions, so that Socrates may know where to make a be- 
ginning. Thus, we see, the philosopher contrives to get his way 
after all we are to have " dialectic/ 1 in other words, thinking, 
as well as fine talking, as part of our programme (1986-1990). 

Dialectical Interrogation of Agathon by Socrates (1990-2010). 
The purpose of this little interlude, as Socrates had said, is to make 
sure that his own encomium, which was to " tell the truth/ 1 shall 
begin at the right starting-point. In other words, we are to be 
brought back to reality, of which we have steadily been losing sight. 
Eros, " love/' " craving/ 1 is a relative term ; all Eros is Eros of 
something which is its correlate, and it is meant that this correlate is 
a satisfaction. This would be clear at once in Greek, but is a little 
obscured for us in English by the ambiguity of our word "love." 
In English there are at least three quite distinct senses of the word 
" love," and much loose sentimental half-thinking is due to con- 
fusion between them. If we would be accurate, we must distin- 
guish them precisely. There is (i) " love of complacency," the 
emotion aroused by the simple contemplation of what we admire 
and approve, the " love to the agent " of which the moral-sense 
school speak in their accounts of moral approval. We may feel 
this towards a person wholly incapable of being in any way affected 
for good or bad by our acts or affecting us by his, as when we glow 
with attachment to the great and good of whom we have read in 
history. There is (2) " love of benevolence," which prompts us 
to confer kindnesses on its object or to do him services. This love 
we may feel to the good and the evil alike. It may show itself as 
active gratitude to a benefactor, as pity for the unfortunate or the 
sinful, and in many other guises. There is finally (3) " love of 
concupiscence," desirous love, the eager appetition of what is 
apprehended as our own " good." It is only this desirous love 
which can be called Ipws in Greek. 1 

Eros, then, is always a desirous love of its object, and that object 
is always something not yet attained or possessed. Agathon had 
said that " love of things fair " has created the happiness of the 
gods themselves. But if Eros " wants " beauty, it must follow that 

1 Hence when Euripides says fyare, TrcuSes, /-oyr/xJs, he means a great deal 
more than we can express by saying " love your mother." He means that 
the sons of such a mother as his heroine are to be " in love " with her ; she is 
to be to them their true mistress and " dominant lady," as Hector in Homer 
is " father and mother " to Andromache. One might illustrate by saying 
that in Christianity God is thought of as loving all men with " love of ben- 
evolence," and the righteous with an added " love of complacency/' but as 
loving no creature with " love of concupiscence." The good man, on the other 
hand, loves God with love of concupiscence, as the good for which his soul 
longs, and with love of complacency, but could hardly, I suppose, be said to 
love God with amor benevolentiae.smce we cannot do" good turns " to our Maker. 


he does not yet possess it, and therefore is not himself " ever fair/ 
and in the same way, if he " wants " good, he cannot himself be 

At this point Socrates closes his conversation with Agathon and 
enters on his " discourse/' having found the apxy for it. The 
questioning of Agathon is no piece of mere verbal dexterity. It is 
indispensable that we should understand that the only Eros de- 
serving of our praises is an amor ascendens, a desirous going forth 
of the soul in quest of a good which is above her. And this going 
forth must begin with the knowledge that there is something we 
want with all our hearts but have not yet got. As the old Evan- 
gelicals said, the first step towards salvation is to feel your need of 
a Saviour. " Blessed are they which hunger . . . for they shall be 
filled/' The soul which is to be love's pilgrim must begin by feeling 
this heart-hunger, or it will never adventure the journey. This is 
the dpx>7 demanded by Socrates for any hohes Lied der Liebe which 
is to " tell the truth." 

Speech of Socrates (2oid-2i2c). Though Socrates had affected 
to make his " dialectic " a mere preliminary to the " discourse " he 
was contemplating, he actually contrives to turn the discourse itself 
into " dialectic," genuine thinking, by putting it into the mouth of 
one Diotima, a priestess and prophetess of Mantinea, and relating 
the process of question and answer by which the prophetess had 
opened his own eyes to understand the true mysteries of Eros. 
The purpose is that his hearers shall not merely follow his words and 
possibly be agreeably affected by them, but shall follow his thought. 
They are to listen to the " conversation of his soul with itself." 
At the same time, I cannot agree with many modern scholars in 
regarding Diotima of Mantinea as a fictitious personage ; still less 
in looking for fanciful reasons for giving the particular names Plato 
does to the prophetess and her place of origin. The introduction of 
purely fictitious named personages into a discourse seems to be a 
literary device unknown to Plato, as has been said in an earlier 
chapter, and I do not believe that if he had invented Diotima he 
would have gone on to put into the mouth of Socrates the definite 
statement that she had delayed the pestilence of the early years 
of the Archidamian war for ten years by " offering sacrifice " at 
Athens. As the Meno has told us, Socrates did derive hints for 
his thought from the traditions of " priests of both sexes who have 
been at pains to understand the rationale of what they do," and the 
purpose of the reference to the presence of Diotima at Athens about 
440 is manifestly not merely to account for Socrates' acquaintance 
with her, but to make the point that the mystical doctrine of the 
contemplative " ascent " of the soul, now to be set forth, was one 
on which the philosopher's mind had been brooding ever since his 
thirtieth year. This, if true, is very important for our understand- 
ing of the man's personality, and I, for one, cannot believe that 
Plato was guilty of wanton mystifications about such things. At 
the same time, we may be sure that in reproducing a conversation 


a quarter of a century old, Socrates is blending his recollections 
of the past with his subsequent meditations upon it, as normally 
happens in such cases. He sees an episode which had influenced 
his life profoundly in the light of all that had come out of it, much 
as St. Augustine in later life saw the facts of his conversion to 
Christianity in a changed perspective, as we are able to prove by 
contrasting the Confessions with the works composed just after the 

To all intents and purposes, we shall not go wrong by treating 
the " speech of Diotima " as a speech of Socrates. We can best 
describe the purpose of the speech in the language of religion by 
saying that it is the narrative of the pilgrimage of a soul on the way 
of salvation, from the initial moment at which it feels the need of 
salvation to its final " consummation/' In spite of all differences 
of precise outlook, the best comment on the whole narrative is 
furnished by the great writers who, in verse or prose, have described 
the stages of the " mystic way " by which the soul " goes out of 
herself," to find herself again in finding God. In substance, what 
Socrates is describing is the same spiritual voyage which St. John 
of the Cross describes, for example, in the well-known song En una 
noche oscura which opens his treatise on the Dark Night, and 
Crashaw hints at more obscurely all through his lines on The Flaming 
Heart, and Bonaventura charts for us with precision in the 
Itinerarium Mentis in Deum. The Christian writers see by a 
clearer light and they have an intensity which is all their own, but 
the journey they describe is recognizably the same the travel of 
the soul from temporality to eternity. In Greek literature, the 
speech, I think we may fairly say, stands alone until we come to 
Plotinus, with whom the same spiritual adventure is the main 
theme of the Enneads. Unless we have so much of the mystic in 
us as to understand the view that the " noughting " and remaking 
of the soul is the great business of life, the discourse will have no 
real meaning to us ; we shall take it for a mythological bellum 
somnium. But if we do that, we shall never really understand the 
Apology and the other dialogues which deal with the doctrine of 
the " tendance of the soul/' a simple-sounding name which conceals 
exactly the same conception of the attainment of " deiformity " 
as the real " work of man." In the Phaedo we have had the picture 
of a human soul on the very verge of attainment, at the moment 
when it is about to " lose itself in light." In the Symposium we 
are shown, more fully than anywhere else in Plato, the stages by 
which that soul has come to be what it is in the Phaedo. We see 
with Plato's eyes the interior life of the soul of Socrates. 

The desirous soul, as was already said, is as yet not " fair " or 
" good " ; that is what it would be and will be, but is not yet. 
But this does not mean that it is " foul " and " wicked." There 
is a state intermediate between these extremes, as there is a state 
intermediate between sheer ignorance and completed knowledge 
the state of having true beliefs without the power to give a iusti- 


fication of them (avev TOV ?x tv ^-oyov Sowai). This may be ex- 
pressed mythologically by saying that Eros is not a " god/' nor 
yet a "mere mortal," but a 8cu/xa>v or " spirit/' and a mighty one 
(202d-e). According to the received tradition, "spirits" stand 
half-way between mortality and divinity ; they convey men's 
prayers to the gods, and the commands, revelations, and gifts of 
the gods to men ; intercourse between gods and men has them as 
its intermediaries. Eros is one of these " spirits " (20 30). His 
birth answers to his function. He is the child of Poros son of 
Metis (Abundance, son of Good Counsel), by the beggar-maid Penia 
(Need), conceived in heaven on the birthday of Aphrodite, and he 
inherits characters from both his parents. He is, like his mother, 
poor, uncomely, squalid, houseless, and homeless. But he has so 
much of the father about him that he has high desires for all that is 
" fair and good/' courage, persistence, endless resourcefulness, and 
art in the pursuit of these desires. He is the greatest of " wizards 
and wits " (Seivo? yo'r/s . . . KCU o-o<toT77s), he " pursues wisdom 
all his life long " (^tXoo-o^oiv Sia Travros TOV (3iov). He is neither 
god nor mortal, but lives a " dying life," starving and fed, and 
starving for more again. 1 He is your one " philosopher " ; gods 
do not aspire to " wisdom," for they already have it, nor yet " fools," 
for they do not so much as know their need and lack of it. " Philo- 
sophers," aspirants after wisdom, of whom Eros is chief, are just 
those who live between these two extremes. 2 They feel the hunger 
for wisdom, the fairest of things, but they feel it precisely because 
it remains unsatisfied. The conventional representation of Eros 
as the " ever fair " is due to a simple confusion between the good 
aspired to and the aspirant after it (2010-2046) . 

When the thin veil of allegory is removed, we see that what is 
described here is simply the experience of the division of the self 
characteristic of man, when once he has become aware of his own 
rationality. Rationality is not an endowment of which man finds 
himself in possession ; it is an attainment incumbent on him to 
achieves j Spiritual manhood and freedom are the good which he 
must reach if he is to be happy, but they are a far-away good, and 
his whole life is a struggle, and a struggle with many an alternation 
of success and failure, to reach them. If he completely attained 
them, his life would become that of a god ; he would have put off 
temporality and put on an eternity secured against all mutability. 
If he does not strive to attain, he falls back into the condition of the 
mere animal, and becomes a thing of mere change and mutability. 
Hence while he is what he is, he is never at peace with himself ; 
that is the state into which he is trying to grow. It is true, in a 
deeper sense than the author of the saying meant, that der Mensch 
ist etwas das iiberwunden werden muss (we are only truly men in 
so far as we are becoming something more). (That the " temporal " 

1 The /3/of 0iX<J<ro0oy, we might say, has as its motto quasi morientes et ecce 
vivimus ; tanquam nihil habentes et omnia possidentes. 

1 Cf . the classification of rational beings ascribed to the Pythagoreans, 
" gods/ 1 " men," " beings like Pythagoras " (0i\&ro0oi). Aristot. Fr. 192, Rose. 


in us which has to be put off is always spoken of by Socrates as 
" ignorance " or " error," not as " sin," has no special significance, 
when we remember his conviction that the supreme function of 
" knowledge " is to command and direct, to order the conduct of 
life towards the attainment of our true good.) 

It will be seen that Socrates is formally deferring to the dictum 
of Agathon about the proper disposition of the parts of an encomium. 
He has dealt with the question what the intrinsic character of 
Eros is ; he now proceeds to the question of his services to us 
(TWO. xpei'av lx t T k avflpwirois) . What is it that, in the end, is the 
object of the heart's desirous longing ? Good, or in still plainer 
words happiness (cu&u/Aoi/t'u) . All men wish happiness for its 
own sake, and all wish their happiness to be " for ever." (Weh 
spricht, Vergeh ! Dock alle Lust will Ewigkeit.) Why, then, do we 
not call all men lovers, since all have this desirous longing ? For 
the same reason that we do not call all craftsmen " makers," though 
they all are makers of something. Linguistic use has restricted 
the use of the word TTOIIJTI/S (" maker ") to one species of maker, 
the man who fashions verse and song. So it is with the name 
" lover " ; all desirous longing for good or happiness is love, but 
in use the name " lover " is given to the person who longs earnestly 
after one particular species of happiness TOKO? eV /caAcp (" pro- 
creation in the beautiful ") whether this procreation is physical or 

spiritual (/ecu Kara TO OXO/AO, KOU KCITO, TT/V t/^v^v, 206&). 

To explain the point more fully, we must know that maturity 
of either body or mind displays itself by the desire to procreate ; 
beauty attracts us and awakens and fosters the procreative impulse, 
ugliness inhibits it. And love, in the current restricted sense of the 
word, is not, as might be thought, desire of the beautiful object, 
but desire to impregnate it and have offspring by it (desire T>}S 
ycvvrjo-ctog KCU TOU TOKOU lv /caXu>). (It is meant quite strictly that 
physical desire for the " possession " of a beautiful woman is 
really at bottom a "masked" desire for offspring by a physically 
" fine " mother ; sexual appetite itself is not really craving for 
" the pleasures of intercourse with the other sex " ; it is a passion 
for parenthood.) And we readily understand why this desire for 
procreation should be so universal and deep-seated. It is an 
attempt to perpetuate one's own being " under a form of eternity," 
and we have just seen that the primary desire of all is desire to 
possess one's " good " and to possess it for ever. The organism 
cannot realize this desire in its own individuality, because it is in 
its very nature subject to death. But it can achieve an approxi- 
mation to eternity, if the succession of generations is kept up. 
Hence the vehemence of the passion for procreation and the strength 
of the instincts connected with mating and rearing a brood in all 
animals. The only way in which a thing of time can approximate 
to being eternal is to produce a new creature to take its place as it 
passes away. Even within the limits of our individual existence, 
the body " never continues in one stay " ; it is a scene of unending 


waste made good by repair. Our thoughts and emotions too do 
not remain selfsame through life. Even our knowledge does not 
"abide " ; we are perpetually forgetting what we knew and having 
to " recover " it again by /ucXeny ("study," "rehearsal"). It is 
only by giving birth to a new individual to take the place of the old 
that the mortal can " participate in deathlessness " (2086) .* 

The passion for physical parenthood, however, is the most 
rudimentary form in which the desirous longing for the fruition of 
good eternal and immutable shows itself, and the form in which 
Diotima is least interested. Her main purpose is to elucidate 
the conception of spiritual parenthood. If we turn to the life of the 
" love of honours " note that this reference (20 Sc) implies that in 
what has been said about the physical instincts we have been con- 
sidering the " body-loving " life the passion for " fame undying" 
which has led Alcestis, Achilles, Codrus, and many another to 
despise death and danger is just another, and more spiritualized, 
form of the " desirous longing for the eternal." Thus, just as the 
man who feels the craving for physical fatherhood is attracted by 
womankind and becomes " exceeding amorous," so it is with those 
whose souls are ripe for the procreation of spiritual issue, " wisdom 
and goodness generally " ; the mentally, like the physically adult 
looks for a " fair " partner to receive and bear his offspring (2090-6). 
He feels the attraction of fair face and form, but what he is really 
seeking is the " fair and noble and highly dowered " soul behind 
them. If he finds what he is looking for, he freely pours forth 
" discourse on goodness and what manner of man the good man 
should be, and what conduct he should practise, and tries to 
educate " the chosen soul he has found. The two friends are 
associated in the " nurture " of the spiritual offspring to which their 
converse has given birth, and the tie is still more enduring than that 
of literal common parenthood, inasmuch as the offspring which 
are the pledges of it are " fairer and more deathless." Examples 
of such spiritual progeny are the poems of Homer and Hesiod, and 
still more the salutary institutions and rules of life left to succeeding 
ages by Lycurgus and Solon and many another statesman of Hellas 
or " Barbary " ; some of these men have even been deified by the 
gratitude of later generations (2095). a 

1 This has absurdly been supposed to be inconsistent with the doctrines of 
the Phaedo, and it has even been argued that the Symposium must have 
been written before Plato discovered the doctrine of immortality expounded 
there. In point of fact, there is no inconsistency. According to both dia- 
logues the " body " belongs to the " mortal " element in us, and perishes 
beyond recall. Hence man, according to the Phaedo, is strictly mortal ; what 
is immortal is not the man, but the " divine " element in him, his ^vxt, as 
has already been explained. There is not a word in the Symposium to suggest 
that the $vxt is perishable. Hence no inference about the priority of the 
one dialogue to the other can be based on comparison of their teaching. 

*The allusion to "temples" erected to deified statesmen presumably 
refers to Oriental communities in which the " laws " were traditionally ascribed 
to remote " divine " rulers. The Greeks did not deify their legislators. At 
Laws 624*1 the Cretan speaker, indeed, attempts to claim Zeus as the author 


The desirous longing for an eternal good, however, has far 
higher manifestations than these, and Diotima will not take it on 
her to say whether Socrates is equal to making the ascent to them, 
though she will describe them, and he must try to follow her. 1 
(The meaning is that-, so far, we have been talking only about what 
is possible within the limits of the two lower types of life : we have 
now to deal with the more arduous path to be trodden by the 
aspirant to the highest life of all, that of " philosophy. 1 ') He who 
means to pursue the business in earnest must begin in early life 
by being sensible to bodily beauty. If he is directed aright, he 
will first try to " give birth to fair discourses " in company with 
one comely person. But this is only the beginning. He must 
next learn for himself 2 to recognize the kinship of all physical 
beauty and become the lover of " all beautiful bodies.'' 3 Then 
he must duly recognize the superiority of beauty of soul, even 
where there is no outward comeliness to be an index to it. He 
must be "in love " with young and beautiful souls and try to bring 
to the birth with them " fair discourses." Next, he must learn to 
see beauty and comeliness as they are displayed in ltririftvop,a.ra. 
and vofuu, avocations and social institutions, and perceive the 
community of principle which comely avocations and institutions 
imply. Then he must turn to " science " and its intellectual 
beauties, which will disclose themselves to him as a whole wide 
ocean of delights. Here again, he will give birth to " many a 
noble and imposing discourse and thought in the copious wealth of 
philosophy " that is, he will enrich the " sciences " he studies with 
high discoveries. 

of the r6/*ot of Crete, but he knows, of course, that the traditional author 
of them was Minos, who was not a god, and so says they may " in fairness " 
be credited to Zeus (because, according to Homer, Minos " conversed " with 

1 Much unfortunate nonsense has been written about the meaning of 
Diotima's apparent doubt whether Socrates will be able to follow her as she 
goes on to speak of the " full and perfect vision " (rd rAea *ai tiroTrrtKA, 2ioa i). 
It has even been seriously argued that Plato is here guilty of the arrogance of 
professing that he has reached philosophical heights to which the " historical " 
Socrates could not ascend. Everything becomes simple if we remember 
that the actual person speaking is Socrates, reporting the words of Diotima, 
Socrates is as good as speaking of himself, and naturally, Diotima must not 
say anything that would imply that he is already, at the age of thirty, assured 
of " final perseverance." In the Phaedo, speaking on the last day of his life 
to a group of fellow-followers of the way, Socrates can without impropriety 
say that he has " lived as a philosopher to the best of his power." 

* avrbv KaravoTjo-ai, 2ioa 8. The aMv seems to be emphatic. The neces- 
sity for a " director " (6 fjyotiuvo*) is admitted for the first step of the progress 
only. The rest of the way must be trodden at one's own peril, by the " inner 
light." Yet there is a return to the conception of " combined effort " at 
2100 6, M rds 4irLffT^fJi,a^ dyayeiv. 

8 It is not meant that this widening of outlook must act unfavourably on 
personal affection. The thought is that intelligent delight in the beauty of 
one " fair body " will lead to a quickened perception of beauty in others, 
just as genuine appreciation of your wife's goodness or your friend's wit 
will make you more, and not less alive to the presence of the same qualities in 


Even so, we have not reached the goal so far ; we are only now 
coming in sight of it. When a man has advanced so far on the 
quest he will suddenly descry the supreme beauty of which he has 
all along been in search a beauty eternal, selfsame, and perfect, 
lifted above all mutability. It is no " body/' nor yet even a 
" science- " or " discourse " of which beauty could be predicated, 
but that very reality and substance of all beauty of which every- 
thing else we call beauty is a passing " participant " ; the unchang- 
ing light of which all the beauties hitherto discerned are shifting 
reflections (2116). When this light rises above his horizon, the 
pilgrim of Eros is at last " coming to port." The true " life for a 
man " is to live in the contemplation of the " sole and absolute 
Beauty " (0a>/*cVa> avro TO KaAoV), by comparison with which all 
the " beauties " which kindle desire in mankind are so much dross. 
Only in intercouse with It will the soul give birth to a spiritual 
offspring which is no " shadow " but veritable " substance/ 1 
because it is now at last " espoused " to very and substantial 
reality. 1 This and only this is the true achieving of " immortality. 11 
Such was the discourse of Diotima, and Socrates believes it himself 
and would fain persuade others that Eros (" desirous longing") is 
the truest helper we can have in this quest after immortality. This 
is what he has to offer by way of a eulogy on the " might and 
manhood" of Eros (2i2&-c). 2 

The meaning of the discourse is clear enough. In the earlier 
stages of the " ascent " which has just been described, we recognize 
at once that " tendance of the soul " or care for one's " moral 
being " which Plato regularly makes Socrates preach to his young 
friends as the great business of life. That the work of " tendance 
of the soul " must go further than the development of ordinary good 
moral habits and rules, that it demands the training of the intellect 
by familiarity with the highest " science," and that the task of the 
true philosopher is, by his insight into principles, to unify the 
" sciences," and to bring the results of ripe philosophical thinking 
to bear on the whole conduct of life, is the same lesson which is 
taught us in the Republic by the scheme propounded for the educa- 
tion of the philosophic statesman. As in the Republic, the study 
of the separate sciences leads up to the supreme science of " dial- 
ectic " or metaphysics, in which we are. confronted with the prin- 
ciples on which all other knowing depends, so here also Socrates 
describes the man who is coming in sight of his goal as descrying 
" one single science " of Beauty (210^ 7). And in both cases, in the 
final moment of attainment, the soul is described as having got 
beyond " science " itself. Science here passes in the end into 
direct " contact," or, as the schoolmen say, " vision," an apprehen- 

1 Symp. 2i2a 4. The allusion is to the tale of Ixion and the cloud which 
was imposed on him in the place of Hera, and from which the Centaurs sprang. 
All loves but the last are, in varying degrees, illusions. 

1 2126, ^yKw/udfwv rV dfoa/jitv *al dvSpelav rov tpwot. The dvdpeta is specified 
because the pilgrimage is so long and arduous that it is no easy thing to " play 
the man " to the end of it. It is a warfare against '' flesh and blood." 


sion of an object which is no longer " knowing about " it, knowing 
propositions which can be predicated cf it, but an actual possession 
of and being possessed by it. In the Republic, as in the Symposium, 
the thought is conveyed by language borrowed from the " holy 
marriage " of ancient popular religion and its survivals in mystery- 
cults. Here it is " Beauty " to which the soul is mated ; in the 
Republic it is that good which, though the cause of all being and all 
goodness, is itself " on the other side of being." * 

We must not, of course, especially in view of the convertibility 
of the terms KaXov and ayaOov which is dwelt on more than once in 
our dialogue, be misled into doubting the absolute identity of the 
" form of good " of the Republic with the avro TO Ka\6v of the 
Symposium. The place assigned to both in the ascent to " being 
and reality " is identical, and in both cases the stress is laid on the 
point that when the supreme " form " is descried, its apprehen- 
sion comes as a sudden " revelation/ 1 though it is not to be had 
without the long preliminary process of travail of thought, and 
that it is apprehended by " direct acquaintance/' not by discursive 
" knowledge about "it. It is just in this conviction that all " know- 
ledge about " is only preparatory to a direct scientia visionis that 
Socrates reveals the fundamental agreement of his conception with 
that of the great mystics of all ages. The " good " or avro TO Ka\6v 
is, in fact, the ens realissimum of Christian philosophers, in which 
the very distinction between esse and essentia, Sein and So-sein 
falls away. You cannot properly predicate anything of it, because 
it does not " participate " in good or any other " form " ; it is 
its own So-sein. Consequently, the apprehension of it is strictly 
" incommunicable/' since all communication takes the form of 
predication. Either a man possesses it and is himself possessed 
by it, or he does not, and there is no more to be said. This does 
not mean that the " most real being " is irrational, or that by 
" thinking things out " we are getting further away from it, but it 
does mean that we cannot " rationalize " it. We cannot give its 
constituent " formula/' so to say, as we could that of an ellipse 
or a cycloid. You might spend eternity in trying to describe it, and 
all you found to say would be true and reasonable, so far as it 
goes, but its full secret would still elude you ; it would still be 
infinitely rich with undisclosed mystery. As the Christian mystics 
say, God may be apprehended, but cannot be comprehended by any 
of His creatures. That is why He is "on the other side of being." 
The " deiform " do not " think about " God, they live Him. This 
does not mean that " myth " is something in its own nature superior 
to scientific truth, a misconception on which Professor Burnet has 
said all that is necessary. Because " vision " is direct, the content 
of a " tale " or " myth " cannot really convey it. A " tale " is as 
much a mere form of " knowing about " as a scientific description, 
and as a form of " knowing about " it is, of course, inferior. In 

1 Rep. 5086 9. For the metaphor of the " holy marriage," cf. e.g. Rep. 
4906, 496*. 


fact, all the mystics insist on the point that the direct vision of 
supreme reality is not only incommunicable, it cannot even be 
recalled in memory when the moment of vision has passed. You 
are sure that you " saw " ; you cannot tell what you saw even to 
yourself. This is the real reason why, as Burnet says, Plato never 
uses " mythical " language about the " forms," but only about 
things like the soul, which he regards as half real, partly creatures 
of temporality and change. We should note, however, that the 
supreme reality which is apprehended in the culminating vision is 
never said in Plato to be God, but always the supreme " form." 
It is the good which is the Platonic and Socratic ens realissimum. 

The position of God in the philosophy of both seems to me 
ambiguous and not fully thought out. Formally, Plato's God is 
described in the Laws as a perfectly good soul (dpumy i/^x 7 ?)- This 
ought to mean, as Burnet clearly holds it to mean, that God too is 
only half -real, and belongs on one side to the realm of the mutable. 
I confess that I do not see how to reconcile such a position with the 
religious insistence on the eternal and immutable character of God 
which meets us everywhere in Plato. We could not meet the 
difficulty by supposing that God is an imaginative symbol of the 
" good," since the whole point of Plato's Theism is, as we shall see, 
that it is by the agency of God that the " participation " of the 
creatures in the good is made possible. Thus God is not identical 
with the good, and it seems equally impossible to suppose that God 
is simply a " creature " participating in good. I can only suppose 
that there was a really unsolved conflict between the Platonic 
metaphysics and the Platonic religion. In fact, the adjustment 
of the two became a cardinal problem for Plotinus and the Neo- 
platonic succession. 1 We shall not be in a position to deal with 
the topic properly until we come to speak of Plato's latest written 
works and the " unwritten doctrines " expounded in the Academy. 
Plato clearly means, in spite of Diotima's words of caution, to 
present Socrates in the Symposium as a man who has in his supreme 
hours attained the " vision " for himself, and for that very reason 
impresses his fellow-men by his whole bearing as being not of their 
world though he is in it. We could have inferred at least that 
he was steadily treading the road to " unification " with the supreme 
reality from the close correspondence of the description of that 
road by Diotima with what Plato elsewhere represents as his hero's 
course of life. But naturally enough, Socrates cannot be made to 
boast of the supreme achievement with his own lips, and this is 
why Alcibiades, the most brilliant living specimen of the " ambitious 
life," is introduced at this point. We are to gather from his famous 
narrative of the impression Socrates made on him in their years of 
close intercourse, and the hold the recollections of those years still 

1 The Ncoplatonic way of dealing with the problem, by making " The 
One " the source from which vow and its correlate T& voijrd directly emanate, 
definitely subordinates the "forms" to God. Through Augustine this view 
passed to St. Thomas and still remains part of Thomistic pnilosophy 


have on his conscience and imagination, what could not well be said 
in any other way, that Socrates has " seen/ 1 and that the vision 
has left its stamp on his whole converse with the world. Perhaps 
there is a further thought in Plato's mind. Socrates, we might 
say, is the man who has renounced the world to find his own eternal 
" life " ; Alcibiades, naturally endowed with all the gifts required 
for " philosophy/' but a prey to the lusts of the flesh and the eye 
and the pride of life, is the man who might have " seen " if he 
would, the man who has made the " great refusal " of sacrificing 
the reality for the shadow. He has chosen for the world and has 
all the world can give. We are made to look on the two types 
side by side, and to listen to the confession of the triumphant 
worldling in the full flush of triumph,, that he has chosen the worser 
part. On the panegyric of Socrates by Alcibiades (2150-2226} it 
is not necessary to dwell here. Its importance is for the under- 
standing of the characters of Socrates and of Alcibiades, not for 
any contribution it makes to our comprehension of the Socratic or 
the Platonic philosophy. It shows us Socrates in act following the 
route of the pilgrimage already described by Diotima. One should, 
of course, note, in order to avoid some strange misconceptions, that 
the famous story told by Alcibiades of his own " temptation " of 
Socrates (216^-219^) is meant to go back to a time when Alcibiades, 
who fought in the cavalry before Potidaea in 431-30, was still a 
mere boy, little more than a child (2176). We must date the events 
somewhere between 440 and 435, when Socrates would be in the 
earlier thirties. This being so, it is important to observe that even 
then his fame for wisdom was such that Alcibiades could think no 
price too high to pay for the benefit of " hearing all that he knew," 
We must also, of course, understand that Socrates is to be thought 
of as a man still young enough to feel the charm of beauty in its 
full force, and to feel it in the way characteristic of the society of 
his age, but too full of high thoughts to be vanquished by " the 
most opportune place, the strongest suggestion his worser genius 
can. 11 He moves through a brilliant and loose-living society like a 
Sir Galahad, not because he is not a man of genuine flesh and blood, 
but because his heart is engaged elsewhere, and he has none to spare 
for " light loves." This testimony, coming from Plato, is enough 
to dispose once and for all of the later gossip of Aristoxenus and 
the Alexandrians who collected such garbage. We must also, I 
think, with Burnet, recognize that the prominence given to the 
account of Socrates' "rapt " for four-and-twenty hours at Potidaea 
(zzoc-d) is intended to suggest that this was the outstanding 
" ecstasy " of his life, and left an ineffaceable mark on his whole 
future. It can hardly be a coincidence that the earliest " mission- 
ary " effort of Socrates related by Plato, his attempt to convert 
Charmides, is dated immediately after his return from the campaign 
of Potidaea. 1 For the rest, Socrates' remarkable power of adapting 

1 Greek Philosophy, Part /., 130, 138-142 ; E.R.E. xi. 670, col. i. Professor 
Burnet has fallen into an oversight in the first of these passages when he makes 


himself in appearance to the tone and manner of the world, and 
yet contriving without any visible effort to bring with him the 
suggestion of being all the while in constant contact with the other 
" unseen " world which is at once so near and so far is one of the 
best-known characteristics of the greatest " contemplatives " ; the 
stress laid on the point helps to strengthen our conviction that we 
are presented with a realistic portrait of an actual man. (The same 
" adaptability " is noted as eminently distinctive of Xavier by his bio- 
graphers. Xavier recalls Socrates too by the " gaiety " of which the 
biographers speak as the most striking feature of his conversation.) 

On the description of the scene of revelry with which the 
" banquet " ends, I need only make one remark. We are told 
(22$d) that when the new morning broke, Socrates, Aristophanes, 
and Agathon were the only persons in the party who were equal to 
continuing the conversation, and that Socrates was left by Aris- 
todenms trying to convince the two dramatists that the man who 
can compose a tragedy rcxvy, " by his art," can also compose a 
comedy. Much ingenuity has been wasted on the interpretation of 
this remark, and it has even been supposed to be a kind of prophecy 
of Shakespeare's " tragi-comedies," which are neither tragedies, 
nor yet comedies in the sense in which we give that name to the 
brilliant personal burlesques of the Attic " old comedians." The 
real meaning lies on the surface. As we have seen, Socrates dis- 
sented from the current view that poets are o-o^ot and their pro- 
ductions works of conscious " art." He held that they depend on 
" genius " or " inspiration," and cannot themselves explain their 
own happiest inspirations. His point is thus that the inability of 
Agathon to compose comedies and of Aristophanes to write tragedies, 
is a proof that neither of them is a o-o^os, working with conscious 
mastery of an " art." Both are the instruments of a " genius " 
which masters them, not wielders of a tool of which they are masters. 
The passage sho'uld really be quoted, not as an excuse for gush 
about Shakespeare, but as an illustration of what Socrates says in 
the Apology about his attempts to " refute the oracle " by finding 
a 0-0^09 among the poets and their failure. In fact, he fails here. 
His two auditors are half asleep after their night of merriment and 
" do not quite take the point " (ou <r<j>6$pa. cirofuVovs vvoraciv f 223^ 6). 

See further : 

RITTER, C. Platon, i. 504-531. 

RAEDER, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 158-168. 

NATORP, P. Platons Ideenlehre, 163-174. 

BURY, R. G. Symposium of Plato. (1909.) 

ROBIN, L. Platon, Le Banquet. (Paris, 1929.) 

LAGERBORG, R. Platonische Liebe. (Leipzig, 1926.) 

STEWART, J. A. The Myths of Plato, 397-450 (The Two 

Symposium Myths) ; Plato's Theory of Ideas, Pt. ii. 
STENZEL, J. Platon der Erzieher, 209-241. 

the " rapt " take place at a time of " hard frost." The time was high summer 
(Symp. 22od i). 


IF there is any Platonic dialogue which can challenge the 
claim of the Symposium to be its author's dramatic chef 
d'ceuvre it is the Protagoras, with its brilliant full-length 
portrait of the famous Protagoras and its mirthful sketches of the 
two minor " sophists/' Prodicus and Hippias. The very life-like- 
ness of the narrative has led to grave misunderstanding of the 
philosophical significance of the dialogue. It has been assumed that 
so lively a work must be a youthful composition, and this has led 
to the further supposition that its teaching must be " undeveloped/' 
as compared with that of e.g. the Gorgias. By way of providing 
Plato with a crude " early ethical doctrine/' for the Gorgias to 
correct, it has then been discovered that the Protagoras teaches the 
Hedonism of Bentham, a misconception which makes the right 
understanding of its purpose wholly impossible. We shall see, 
as we proceed, that the dialogue does not teach Hedonism at all ; 
what it does teach is something quite different, the Socratic thesis 
that " all the virtues are one thing knowledge," and that its 
philosophical purpose is simply to make it clear that this thesis is 
the foundation of the whole Socratic criticism of life. The ab- 
surdity of regarding the dialogue as a juvenile performance is 
sufficiently shown by the perfect mastery of dramatic technique 
which distinguishes it. No beginner, however endowed with genius, 
produces such a masterpiece of elaborate art without earlier experi- 
ences of trial and failure. He has first to learn the use of his tools. 
And it is worth noting that Aristotle must have regarded the 
dialogue as a particularly ripe and masterly exposition of the 
Socratic moral theory, since he has taken directly from it his own 
account in the Ethics of the characteristic doctrines of Socrates. 1 

1 E.N. 11166 4, Socrates thought that courage is knowledge, a reference 
to the lengthy treatment of this point at Protag. 349^ ff. (rather than, as 
suggested by Burnet in his commentary on the Ethics, to the Laches) ; 1 1446 18, 
Socrates held that all the " virtues " are (ppovfoas (an allusion probably to 
the assertion of this in Protagoras and Phaedo) ; 11456 23 ft., Socrates denied 
that there is such a state as &K pour la in which " passion " commits a " rape " 
on judgment, dciv&v y&p ^TTKTT^AITJS tvofow, cl>s yero S., AXXo n Kpartlv Kal TrepiA/cetp 
airrty d>$ avdpdirodov (a verbal allusion to Protag. 352c) ; 11476 15, otf5' ai/'rr? (sc. ^ 
Kvpla tviffr-fiw) wpl\KTat. &d Tb ir&Bos (another echo of the same passage) ; 
11640 24, on Protagoras' method of charging for his services, looks like a loose 
reminiscence of Protag. 3286 6-c 2 ; E.N. 11096 6 is a plain reminiscence of 
Protag. 3250" 6 ; E.E. 12290 15 is a direct allusion to Protag. 360^ 4, as is also 
12300 7 ff. ; 12466 34 echoes Protag. 352$. Though Aristotle never names the 
dialogue, he evidently appreciated its importance. 



In form, the dialogue is once more a narrated drama, but, like 
the Republic, with a slightly less complicated formula than the 
Symposium. Socrates himself gives an unnamed friend, with 
whom he meets in a public place in Athens, an account of a brilliant 
company from whom he has only just parted. The method of 
indirect narration is once more necessary, because Plato wishes to 
impress it on us that the date of the gathering was before his own 
time. From the jocular opening remarks we learn that Alcibiades 
is only just becoming old enough to be spoken of as a " man." 
Since Alcibiades served at Potidaea in 431, this will take us back 
at least to the beginning of his " ephebate," which cannot be put 
later than 433, and is more naturally put at least a year or two 
earlier. (For it would be unreasonable to suppose that he must 
have been called out for a hard and distant service as soon as he 
had the minimum age qualification.) Thus we are at a period 
before the opening of the Archidamian war. This accounts for the 
presence, on the most friendly terms, of distinguished men belong- 
ing to states shortly to be official enemies of Athens, and for the 
complete absence of any hint that inter-state relations are in any 
way disturbed. (Hippias of Elis could hardly be made to glorify 
Athens as he does at 3360-338^, and to preach a homily on the 
" internationalism " of Kultur if the war-clouds were already gather- 
ing.) The time is thus the Periclean age ; Athens is at the very 
height of her opulence and glory, and Socrates must be thought 
of as a man of about thirty-five. Of the other figures in the drama, 
the most important, Protagoras of Abdera, is an older man. He 
says (317^) that he is advanced in years and might easily be the 
father of any one present, and subsequently (320$) alleges his 
superior age as a graceful excuse for conveying his views in a fable, 
" as a man may in talking to his juniors. 1 ' Thus we are directed 
to think of him as a generation or so older than Socrates, and there- 
fore a man at any rate, approaching sixty-five. 1 Prodicus and 
Hippias will be roughly men of Socrates' age. The scene is laid 
in the house of the famous " millionaire " Callias, son of Hipponicus, 

1 This would throw back the birth of Protagoras to some time not very 
far from 500 B.C. and make him a contemporary of Anaxagoras. The Alex- 
andrian chronologists made him some fifteen years younger, and they have 
mostly been followed by modern writers. It seems to me, as to Professor 
Burnet, that we must accept Plato's statement. He must have known 
whether Protagoras really belonged to the generation before Socrates, and could 
have no motive for misrepresentation on such a point. All through the 
dialogue the advanced age of Protagoras is kept before the reader's mind, 
so that Plato is not simply falling into an oversight. The Alexandrians 
obviously depend on one of their usual arbitrary constructions. The founda- 
tion of Thurii (444) was their regular " fixed era " for events of the Periclean 
a^e, and as Protagoras was known to have had to do with legislating for 
Thurii, they fixed his d*^ to the year of its foundation. The restoration 
of Protagoras to his true date enables us finally to dispose of the fable of his 
prosecution (in 415 or in 411) for " impiety," a story which bears the marks 
of its futility on its face. From the references of the Meno we see that Pro- 
tagoras must have died during the Archidamian war, and that he ended his 
life in high general repute. 


of whom we read in the Apology that he had spent more money on 
" sophists " than any living man. He must be supposed to be 
quite young, since his activity as a man of affairs begins at a much 
later date. Aristophanes makes a topical joke about his presence 
at the battle of Arginusae and his renown as a lady-killer in the 
Frogs 1 (405 B.C.). In the speech of Andocides on the Mysteries 
he figures as the villain of the story, the party who, according to 
Andocides, is instigating the prosecution in pursuance of a personal 
grudge, and we hear endless scandal about his domestic affairs. 
From Lysias xix. (delivered between 390 and 387) we learn that the 
family capital, which had once been believed to amount to two 
hundred talents, had now shrunk to two. (We must take into account 
the economic revolution which followed on the collapse of Athens 
in 404.) We hear of Callias from time to time in the Hellenica of 
Xenophon. He was commanding the Athenian force at Corinth 
on the famous occasion (390 B.C.) when Iphicrates cut up the Spartan 
mora with his peltasts (op. cit. iv. 5, 13), and was one of the repre- 
sentatives of Athens at the critical congress held at Sparta early 
in 371, two or three months before the battle of Leuctra. Hence 
the agreement then concluded between the Athenian and Pelo- 
ponnesian confederacies has been generally known as the " Peace 
of Callias." His important social position at Athens can be gauged 
from the facts that he held by heredity the position of " Torch- 
bearer " in the Eleusinian mysteries and proxenus, or, as we might 
say, " Consul " for Sparta. For a proper historical appreciation 
of Socrates it is important to note that Plato represents him, at 
this early date, as associating with persons like Callias and Alci- 
biadqs, both connected with the Periclean circle, on equal terms, 
and being in high consideration with both them and the most 
eminent of the foreign " wits. 11 2 

We cannot rate too high the importance of the Protagoras 
as the fullest and earliest exposition of the character and aims of the 
sophistic " education in goodness." Nowhere else in Greek litera- 
ture have we an account of the matter comparable for a moment 
to that which Plato has put into the mouth of Protagoras himself. 
There is really no reason why we should feel any distrust of the 
strict " historicity " of the statements. Plato stood near enough 
to the Periclean age to be excellently well informed of the facts. 
He could form his conclusions not merely from what he might be 
told by men of an elder generation who had known Protagoras, or 
actually taken his course, but from the work or works of the dis- 
tinguished sophist himself. (The silly tale of their destruction is 
refuted not only by the way in which it is assumed in the Theae- 
tetus that all the parties to that conversation are familiar with 

1 Frogs, 432 . For an earlier Aristophanic allusion to Callias as a spendthrift 
and coureur de femmes, cf. Birds, 284-6. He had already been attacked as a 
" waster " and patron of sophists by Eupolis in his K<5Xa/fes (421 B.C.). 

* See the compliment paid him by Protagoras at 3615, and observe that 
It is assumed to be based on an acquaintance begun still earlier on a former 
visit of Protagoras to Athens. 


them, but by the express statement of Isocrates. 1 ) He stood far 
enough away from it to have no personal motive for misrepresenta- 
tion of any kind, and, in point of fact, the personality and the ideas 
of Protagoras are treated all through the dialogue with respect and 
understanding, though we are made to see what his limitations 
are. His exposition of his programme is done with as much 
" gusto " as anything in the whole of Plato's works ; so much so 
that some worthy modern critics have even discovered that Prota- 
goras is the real hero of the dialogue who is meant to be commended 
at the expense of the doctrinaire Socrates. Preposterous as this 
exegesis is, the fact that it has been given in good faith is the best 
proof that the dialogue is no satirical caricature, so far as Prota- 
goras is concerned. He is depicted as a man of high aims and 
sincere belief in the value of the education he gives ; his one mani- 
fest foible is that he is not conscious of his own limitations, and in 
that respect, according to the Apology, he is only on a level with 
all the other " celebrities " of the Periclean age. 

If we discount the little exchange of pleasantries between 
Socrates and his unnamed acquaintance (309^-3100), which merely 
serves the purpose of dating the interview of Socrates and Prota- 
goras by reference to the age of Alcibiades at the time, the dialogue 
falls into the following main sections : (i) an introductory narrative, 
preparatory to the appearance of Protagoras on the scene (3100- 
3160) ; (2) a statement by Protagoras of the nature of the " good- 
ness " he professes to be able to teach, followed by a series of 
" sceptical doubts " urged by Socrates against the possibility of 
such an education, which are, in their turn, replied to by Protagoras 
at great length (3166-328^) ; (3) an argument between Socrates 
and Protagoras leading up to the Socratic " paradox " of the unity 
of the virtues, which threatens to end in an irreconcilable dis- 
agreement (328^-3340) ; (4) a long interlude in which the con- 
versation resolves itself for a time into the discussion of a moralizing 
poem of Simonides (334^-3480) ; (5) resumption of the argument 
begun in (3), with the further developments that the one thing 
to which all forms of " goodness " reduce is seen to be " knowledge/' 
and the consequence is drawn that " all wrong-doing is error " 
(3480-3600) ; (6) a brief page of conclusion in which both parties 
to the discussion admit the need of further inquiry and take leave 
of one another with many courtesies (3600-3620). This general 
analysis of itself shows that the central purpose of the dialogue is 
to exhibit clearly the ultimate ethical presuppositions of the Socratic 
morality and the " sophistic " morality at its best, and to show 
exactly where they are in irreconcilable opposition. The one 
serious exegetical problem we shall have to face is that of discovering 
the connexion of the discussion of the poem of Simonides with what 
precedes and follows. 

1 Isoc. x. 2, vvv d r/s forty otfrws dif/tjJuiOfy, tforts OVK olde Hlpwraydpav ical robt 
icar* tKflvov rbv xp6vov yevofilvovs <ro<picmis t 6n *ai roiaDra Kal iro\ 
T/xty/xarwSlarepa (fvyypdnfJLara jrar&troi' imtv J 


I. INTRODUCTORY NARRATIVE (3100-3160). The narrative is 
giyen in a tone of humour marked by touches of satire, which is 
directed not against Protagoras but against the excessive adulation 
bestowed on him by his younger admirers, and to a less degree 
against the self-importance of second-rate " professors " of the 
type of Prodicus. Its main object, however, is to insist on the 
great importance of education in " goodness," if such an education 
is to be had, and thus to raise our interest to the appropriate pitch, 
before Protagoras and his programme are actually put before us. 
Socrates has been roused from sleep in the " small hours " by his 
young friend Hippocrates, who has just heard of the arrival of 
Protagoras, and is anxious not to lose a moment in getting an intro- 
duction to him and putting himself under his tuition. As it is 
still too early to think of disturbing the great man, Socrates and 
the lad walk about for a time in the av\r) of Socrates 1 house, con- 
versing to pass the time. The drift of the conversation is that by 
profession Protagoras is a " sophist," but Hippocrates is not pro- 
posing to study under him in order to enter the " profession " 
itself ; he would be degrading himself by such a course. His 
object is, like that of the pupil of an ordinary schoolmaster or 
trainer, to get " culture " (TraiScta) as a free gentleman should. 
That is to say, he is about to put his " soul " into the hands of a 
professional " sophist " to be " tended." (The point intended is 
that " culture " is a much more serious thing than is commonly 
supposed. It really means the moulding of the " soul " for good or 
ill.) Hence, before we take such a risk, we ought to be quite clear 
on the point " what a sophist is," i.e. to what ends it is his profession 
to shape us. He is a cro<os or " wit," as his name shows, 1 but we 
might say as much of a painter. We want to know further on what 
his " wit " is exercised, of what accomplishment he is master. 
Hippocrates makes the obvious suggestion that the particular 
accomplishment of the sophist is the skilful use of speech the 
" art " which, in fact, the pupils of Protagoras were specially 
anxious to learn from him. But any skilled professional can speak 
well and to the point about his own technicality, and in teaching us 
that technicality, he will make us also able to speak properly about 
it. Thus the all-important question is, What is it of which a 
" sophist " as such is by profession a teacher? and Hippocrates 
cannot answer this question (3i2tf). 2 

Clearly then, Hippocrates is taking a great risk and taking it 

1 312^. It is assumed that the popular etymology of cro^tcmjy made it a 
derivative from <ro06s and clStvat, <ro0icrTiJs = 6 T&V <ro<t>uv torij j. 

8 Hippocrates makes the suggestion that the " sophist's " speciality is 
to be Scivfa X^yeip, of course, because the special skill of which Protagoras 
notoriously boasted was the power to " make the weaker argument the 
stronger," by stating the case forcibly and plausibly. " Advocacy " is what 
the young men of Athens pay Protagoras to teach them. Socrates' point is 
that the worth of his teaching as a " culture for the soul " depends on what 
he " advocates " and teaches others to advocate. Even from the most utili- 
tarian point of view, to be a clever advocate is not the one and only requisite 
for a statesman. 


in the dark. He would be slow to trust the care of his body to a 
particular adviser, and would do all he could to be sure of sucl) a 
man's competence before he became his patient. How much more 
foolish to put that much more precious thing, his soul, into the hands 
of a recently arrived foreigner, without any consultation with older 
and more responsible friends and relatives, and actually without 
knowing the real character of the stranger's profession ! We might 
suggest that the sophist is by profession a sort of importer and 
retailer (Ip.irop6<> ns YJ Kamj\o?) of foreign articles of spiritual diet 
(a suggestion taken up again with a good deal of humour in a much 
later dialogue, the Sophistes). The " food of the spirit " is, of 
course, " studies "or " sciences " (yu-a^/xara) , and we need to 
guard against the risk that the purveyor of this sustenance may 
deceive us, as other vendors often do, about the quality of his 
merchandise. The ordinary vendor praises the wholesomeness of 
his wares, but without really knowing anything about the matter. 
You would do well to take the advice of a medical man before you 
patronize him. So if one could find a " physician of souls," it 
would be desirable to take his advice before patronizing the spiritual 
wares vended by Protagoras. This is all the more important that 
you cannot carry away samples of his wares, as you might of a 
food for the body, and examine them at your leisure before con- 
suming them. " Sciences " have to be taken direct from the 
vendor into the soul itself, and if they are unsound articles the 
mischief is thus done at the very time of purchase. You and I, 
says Socrates, are still too young 1 to judge for ourselves what is 
wholesome diet for the mind. But we can, at any rate, go and 
hear what Protagoras has to say about his merchandise, and take 
the advice of others accordingly, before we commit ourselves 


We need not delay over the lively description of the scene in 

the house of Callias, the crowd of visitors, and the figures of those 
lesser lights Prodi cus and Hippias. Some of the party must 
have been mere boys ; Socrates says this, in so many words, of 
Agathon, and it must be as true of Charmides, who was still a mere 
lad in the year of Potidaea. Plato has been reprimanded for 
making fun of the invalidism of Prodicus, but for all we know, 
Prodicus may really have been a malade imaginaire at whom it is 
quite fair to laugh. It is interesting to note that all the speakers 
of the Symposium are present except Aristophanes, who would 
be little more than a child at the supposed date of our dialogue. 

1 ^uets ybp trt. vtot. Note the repeated insistence on the comparative 
youth of Socrates. Plato is determined that we shall not forget the date to 
which he has assigned the conversation. I should suppose that his reason is 
that he knew or believed that Socrates, as a fact, did meet Protagoras at this 
date, and that this was the most important occasion on which the two met, 
just as he mentions in the Phaedo that Socrates first learned Anaxagoras' 
doctrine about vovs from hearing some one "read aloud," as he said, "from 
a book of Anaxagoras," simply in order to make the historical point that the 
two meu had not actually met. 


(I should have mentioned in speaking of the Symposium that Aris- 
tophanes must be the youngest of the speakers in that dialogue, a 
man of about twenty-eight.) 

II. THE PROGRAMME OF PROTAGORAS (3i6&-328rf). As soon 
as Protagoras makes his appearance, Socrates, who already knows 
him personally, opens the business on which he has come. His 
young, well-born, and wealthy friend Hippocrates has political 
aspirations which he thinks might be furthered by studying under 
Protagoras. But a preliminary interview is desirable. Protag- 
oras is of the same opinion, and is glad of the chance of explaining 
his aims as a teacher, since the profession is one in which a man 
cannot be too careful of his own reputation. Men feel a natural 
ill-will towards a brilliant stranger when they see the young men 
of promise preferring his company and instructions to those of 
their own most eminent countrymen. This is why all the most 
influential " educators " have preferred to disguise their real 
practice, from Homer's time on, and have professed to be poets, 
physicians, musicians, anything but what they really are. Protag- 
oras plumes himself on his own courage in taking the opposite 
course and frankly avowing that his calling is to " educate men." 
His boldness has proved the wiser course, for in a long professional 
career he has escaped all serious consequences of the popular 
prejudice. 1 So he has nothing to conceal and is ready to expound 
his aims with complete frankness. The whole company thereupon 
forms itself into an audience for the promised exposition. 

Socrates now repeats the question he had already put to Hippo- 
crates ; what precise benefit may be expected from study under 
Protagoras ? The answer Protagoras gives is that a pupil who 
comes to him will go away daily " better than he came," (3180. 
This establishes the formal equivalence of the notions of " educat- 
ing men " and " teaching goodness.") But this statement needs 
to be made more precise. Any master of a speciality might say 
as much. If you studied under Zeuxippus, you would improve 
in drawing, if under Orthagoras in flute-playing. But in what 
will you improve daily if you study under Protagoras ? The 
question, says Protagoras, is rightly and fairly put, and the answer 
is that his pupil will daily improve, not in knowledge of astronomy 
or geometry (like the pupils of the polymath Hippias), but in what 
is the great concern of life, " prudence in the management of one's 
private affairs and capacity to speak and act in the affairs of the 
city." That is, Protagoras undertakes to teach us not how to be 

1 3166-31 yc. Protagoras is, of course, speaking playfully when he suggests 
that Homer, Simonides, and others were really " sophists " who tried to 
escape unpopularity by passing themselves off for something different. 
But we may infer from his remarks (i) that the popular, and very natural, 
feeling against the professional sophist really existed in Athens in the Periclean 
age, and is not, as Grote supposed, an invention of Plato and the Socratic 
men ; (2) that Protagoras was actually the first man avowedly to practise 
the " educating of men " or " teaching of goodness " as a paid profession. 
Unless these are facts, there is no point in what Plato makes him say. 


good specialists, but how to be good men, and what, to a Periclean 
Athenian, is the same thing, good active citizens. He is really 
claiming to be able to teach " statesmanship " (3190). (This, 
of course, was precisely what aspiring young Athenians paid him 
to teach them.) 

There can be no doubt that this is the most important thing a 
man could teach, if it is really true that statesmanship can be 
taught. But Socrates feels a perplexity on the question whether 
statesmanship is teachable. It is hard to disbelieve in the claims 
of a famous man like Protagoras who has been pursuing his pro- 
fession for so many years ; on the other hand, there are considera- 
tions which make the other way, and Socrates now proposes to 
state them. We must observe that he does not undertake to prove 
that statesmanship cannot be taught, nor does he commit himself 
to any of the views he goes on to present. He merely urges that, 
seeing the quarter from which they come, they cannot be simply 
dismissed, but have to be met. The argument is one from what 
Aristotle calls etVdra, the probabilities of the case. 

The Athenians have a great name for being a " clever " people, 
and it is not likely that an opinion held very strongly by such a 
people should be a mere delusion. Now the Athenian public would 
appear to hold that " goodness " cannot be taught. For it is singular 
that though they will only accept public advice on what are 
admittedly matters for expert knowledge from properly qualified 
advisers, they listen to an opinion on the statesmanship of a pro- 
posed course of action without any such regard for qualifications. 
They will listen, on a point of naval construction, to no one 
who is not known either to be an expert himself or to have 
studied under experts. But when the issue is one of statesman- 
ship that is, one of the goodness or badness, the rightfulness or 
wrongfulness, of a proposed public act they treat any one man's 
opinion as equally deserving of a hearing with another's ; they 
make no demand here that a man shall be an approved " expert " 
or have learned from one. 

And this is not merely the attitude of the " general " ; the 
individuals who are regarded as our wisest and best statesmen show 
by their conduct that they hold the same view. They neither 
teach their own " goodness " to their sons nor procure masters of 
it for them, but leave it to chance whether the young men will pick 
up this goodness for themselves. The example selected, in this 
instance, is that of Pericles. Thus Socrates argues the case by 
appealing, in Aristotelian fashion, first to the opinion of the " many " 
and then to that of the " wise/' the acknowledged experts. It is 
not likely that a very widespread conviction should be merely 
baseless ; it is not likely that the convictions of " experts " should 
be merely baseless ; it is still less likely that both parties should 
be victims of the same delusion. The point is raised simply as a 
difficulty ; Socrates is quite ready to listen to a proof from Protag- 
oras that, after all, both parties are wrong. The question is thus 


not whether goodness can be taught or not, but whether Protagoras 
can satisfy Socrates that it is teachable, in other words, whether 
goodness can be taught on the principles and by the methods of 

In dealing with the reply of Protagoras, we must be careful 
to remember that his case is not established by the mere fact that 
there is a great deal of truth in what he says, so far as it goes. 
What is required is that he should make out sufficient justification 
for his claim to be able to teach statesmanship as a speciality, 
exactly as another man might teach geometry or medicine. If 
we keep this point carefully in view, it will be found that, though 
what Protagoras says is true enough, as a vindication of his own 
claim it is a complete ignoratio elenchi. 

He begins by indicating his position by means of a fable about 
the culture-hero Prometheus. At the making of living creatures, 
Epimetheus was charged with the work of distributing the various 
means of success in the " struggle for existence " among them ; 
Prometheus was to act as supervisor and critic. Epimetheus 
managed the distribution so badly that when he came to deal with 
mankind, the various serviceable qualities had already been used 
up on the lower animals ; none were left for man, who would thus 
have been helpless and defenceless if Prometheus had not stolen 
from heaven fire and the knowledge of industrial arts. (In plainer 
words, man is not equipped for self-preservation by a system of 
elaborate congenital instincts, and he is handicapped also by physical 
inferiority : he has to depend for survival on intelligence.) In the 
" state of nature," however, intelligence and the possession of fire 
were not enough to secure men against their animal competitors ; 
they had further to associate themselves in " cities," and this gave 
occasion for all kinds of aggression on one another. (One may 
compare Rousseau's speculations about the opportunity given by 
the social impulses of mankind to the exploitation of the many by 
the able and unscrupulous few.) Hence Zeus intervened to preserve 
the human race by sending Hermes to bestow on them 81*17 and 
cuSws, the sense of right and conscience. But Zeus expressly 
commanded that these gifts were not to be confined, like e.g. skill 
in medicine, to a few specialists ; they were to be distributed to 
every one, since " political association " is impossible on any other 
terms (322^)* Hence the behaviour of the Athenian ecclesia, which 
has surprised Socrates, is reasonable and right. " Political good- 
ness " is wholly a matter of justice and " temperance/' and no 
member of the community is a layman or outsider where justice 
and temperance are concerned ; every " citizen," in fact, is an 
expert in the virtues. This is also why we expect a man who is a 
layman in other accomplishments to confess the fact, and ridicule 
him if he pretends to an accomplishment which he does not possess. 
But when it comes to " justice," or " temperance," or any other 
" goodness of a citizen," we expect a man to pretend to it, even if 
he does not possess it ; hypocrisy is a tribute we expect vice to 


pay to virtue (3230). Similarly we may easily satisfy ourselves 
that the Athenian people really believe that " goodness " can and 
must be taught, by reflecting that they never " admonish " or 
" correct " those who suffer from defects which they cannot help. 
A man is not reprimanded or corrected for being ugly or undersized 
or sickly ; he is pitied. But men are properly reprimanded and 
punished for moral delinquencies, and the whole object is that the 
reprimand or punishment may be a " lesson " to the offender or to 
others not to offend in the future. The very existence of criminal 
justice is thus proof that " goodness " is held to be something 
which can be taught (3230-324^). (This does not mean that either 
Protagoras or Plato rejects the " retributive " theory of punish- 
ment. The " retributive " theory means simply that before a 
man can be held liable to punishment, he must by his acts have 
given you the right to punish him. You are not entitled to inflict 
a penalty simply because you think the suffering of it would 
" do the man good " ; the penalty must be preceded by the 
commission of an offence. No sane theory of the right to punish 
can ignore this.) 

The little fable about Prometheus has already revealed Protag- 
oras to us as a strong believer in the view that morality is 
dependent on vofto?, the system of conventions and traditions 
embodied in the " usages " of a civilized community. As we follow 
his explanation we shall find him laying still more stress on this 
point. Like Hobbes, he holds that in a " state of nature/ 1 there 
would be no morality to speak of, and the lack of it would make 
human life " poor, nasty, brutish, and short/' He declares himself 
strongly opposed to the view of some of his rivals, that " citizen 
goodness " is a thing that comes by " nature/' in other words, 
that men are born good or bad. He is wholly without any belief 
in the moral goodness of the unspoiled " savage " and, in fact, 
looks on morality as a product of civilization, a matter of imbibing 
a sound social tradition. Such a view would seem to suggest that, 
since, as we have just been told, every civilized man has to be a 
" specialist " in justice and temperance, there is no room and no 
need for the expert teacher of goodness, a conclusion which would 
make Protagoras' own professional activities superfluous. Hence 
he goes on, at once, to explain that he does not mean to deny that 
goodness can be taught or that there are expert teachers of it. 
You do not imbibe it unconsciously ; it is a thing which comes by 
teaching and training (323^). His position is that, in a civilized 
society, life is one long process of being taught goodness, and every 
citizen is, in his degree, an expert teacher. But there are a few 
exceptionally able teachers with a special vocation for their function, 
who do what every good citizen is doing, but do it better, and Protag- 
oras himself is simply one of these. 

In support of this view he makes an eloquent and telling speech 
on the educational process to which the civilized man is all through 
life subjected, as a consequence of the very fact that he is a member 


of a society with social traditions. Even in infancy parents, nurses, 
servants, are all busy teaching a child by precept and example that 
" this is right " and " that is wrong." The elementary school- 
master next takes up the same task. The boy's reading lessons are 
passages from the poets, full of sound moral instruction, and the 
preceptors from whom he learns to read and write and tune his 
lyre pay more attention to his conduct than to anything else. So 
the trainer in bodily exercises makes it his prime business to teach 
hardihood and manliness of temper, the first requisites of a future 
soldier. When " school days " are over, and the boy enters on 
manhood, the city by its laws sets before him a rule for the whole 
conduct of his life, and penalizes him if he does not learn from this 
rule how " to govern and be governed." Thus the citizen's life 
is one unbroken progressive process of learning goodness (325^3260). 
It is this very universality of the teaching which explains the puzzle 
about the sons of statesmen. If any of the " accomplishments " 
of which Socrates had spoken, for example flute-playing, were held 
by some community to be so important that every citizen must 
acquire it, and every one was anxious to communicate his own 
knowledge of it to others, what would happen ? The citizens of 
such a community would not all be first-rate performers. Any one 
of them would be a much better performer than an average member 
of a community which did not insist on the accomplishment ; but 
the very universality of the instruction would lead to differences 
between the individual citizens, based on their more or less marked 
natural aptitude. Where the means of instruction were open to all, 
and their use compulsory for all, proficiency would be most mani- 
festly in proportion to aptitude. If no one but the son of a musician 
learned music, or no one but the son of an expert in " goodness " 
learned goodness, we might reasonably expect that the sons of 
musicians would always be our most successful musicians and the 
sons of " good men " our best men. Just because every one 
" learns," this does not occur in an actual society, and Socrates' 
paradox is thus seen to be no paradox at all. If he would compare 
the worst men in a civilized society, like that of Athens, not with 
imaginary " noble savages," but with real savages, he would soon 
discover on which side the superiority lies (326^-3275). And as for 
his argument that there is no provision of a special class of expert 
teachers of goodness, we may reply that neither are there special 
experts to whom a child has to be sent to learn to speak its mother- 
tongue, or to whom the son of an artisan must be apprenticed to 
learn his father's business. In both cases, the child picks up the 
knowledge from its " social environment." Besides, there are 
some men, like Protagoras himself, who have a special and superior 
gift for teaching goodness, and their pupils do make exceptional 
progress (3270-328^). 

The reply to Socrates' doubts looks plausible, and has apparently 
traversed all the points of his case. But the plausibility is, after all, 
only apparent. If we look more closely, we shall see that the 


whole argument depends on simply identifying " goodness " with 
the actual traditions of an existing civilized state. What you do 
imbibe, as Protagoras has said, from parents, servants, school- 
masters, daily intercourse with your fellow-Athenians, is nothing 
but the vo/ios, the social tradition, of the group in which you live. 
In a different social group, at Megara for example, the same in- 
fluences of the social environment would be equally powerful, but 
the type of character they would tend to produce would be in 
many ways different. Thus the theory expounded by Protagoras 
can only be accepted as satisfactory if one assumes, as he has tacitly 
done, that morality is entirely " relative/' that is, that there is no 
moral standard more ultimate than the standard of respectability 
current in a given society. If this is conceded, Protagoras has 
made out his main contention that " goodness " can be, and actually 
is, learned as a consequence of birth into a society with a definite 
tradition. But the whole point of the Socratic identification of 
morality with " knowledge " is that morality is not any more 
" relative " than geometry. The traditions of Athens are no more 
an ultimate standard in matters of right and wrong than they are 
in questions of mathematics. In other words, what Protagoras 
really means by " goodness/' if his argument is to be conclusive, 
is just the medley of uncriticized traditions which Socrates calls in 
the Phaedo " popular goodness " and opposes to " philosophic 
goodness/' as the imitation to the reality. Goodness, as Socrates 
understands it, is a matter not of traditions but of insight into 
principles. Now this, to be sure, is " knowledge/' and must there- 
fore be capable of being taught. But the kind of goodness Protag- 
oras must have in mind when he says that any Athenian citizen, 
as such, is a teacher of it, is something which, as his own illustration 
about the boy who picks up his father's trade rather naively in- 
dicates, is not got by teaching of principles at all, but merely picked 
up, in the main, automatically. Without knowing it, Protagoras 
has really admitted that such goodness is what the Gorgias had 
called a mere " knack." 

Hence it follows that there is a certain inconsistency between 
Protagoras' main position and the vindication of his profession with 
which he concludes his speech. To make the whole speech con- 
sistent, we should have to understand him to be claiming for him- 
self a certain exceptional ability in catching the tone of the " social 
tradition " of Athens, or any other community he visits, and 
communicating that tone to his pupils. Now it would, in the 
first place, be something of a paradox to maintain that a brilliant 
foreigner from Abdera can so successfully take the print of the 
social traditions of every community where he spends a few weeks, 
that a lecture from him will impress that tone on a young man more 
effectively than lifelong intercourse with a society in which it is 
dominant. It would be bad manners, at least, for a brilliant 
Frenchman or American to profess that a few weeks spent in this 
country had enabled him to understand the " tone and temper of 


the British people " better than any of us understand it for our- 
selves." l If " goodness " is knowledge, we can understand 
that a Chinaman, knowing nothing of " British traditions/' may 
have lessons of first-rate importance to impart to us in it ; the 
claim becomes absurd if goodness means, in us, simply thorough 
conformity to the traditions of British respectability. The claim 
to be an expert teacher of goodness is only justifiable on the Socratic 
view that goodness is something eternal and immutable. It is in 
flat contradiction with the relativism professed by Protagoras. 
The further development of the discussion will make it still clearer 
that it is bound to end in an irreconcilable divergence because, 
from the first, the parties to the conversation have meant different 
things by " goodness/ 1 

III. THE UNITY OF THE "VIRTUES" (328^-3340). There is 
just one " little " point Socrates would like to have cleared up, 
before he can profess himself completely satisfied. Protagoras 
had specified two qualities as bestowed on mankind by Zeus the 
sense of right (8007), and conscience (ai8u>?) ; he had gone on to 
mention piety and sophrosyne also as constituents of " goodness." 
Does he mean that " goodness " is an aggregate of which these 
characters are distinct constituents (/xdpia), or are we to understand 
that " conscience," " sense of right," " sophrosyne/ 9 " piety," are 
synonymous ? He meant to be understood in the former sense. 
But did he mean that the constituents are constituents in the way 
in which eyes, nose, and ears are constituents of a face, or in the 
sense in which the smaller volumes contained in a homogeneous 
mass (like a lump of gold) are constituents ? i.e. have the different 
" virtues " each its own constitutive formula, or is there only one 
such formula ? The question is one on which a practical teacher 
of goodness is bound to have a definite opinion, because it has a 
very direct bearing on his educational methods. On the first 
view, a man might " specialize " in one virtue (for example, courage), 
while his neighbour might prefer to specialize in some other, just 
as one man may specialize in diseases of the respiratory organs and 
another in disorders of the digestive system, or as one man may 
become a crack oarsman, another a fast bowler. (Or again, a man 
might set himself to acquire " goodness " by specializing first in one 
of its " parts " or " branches " and then in another, like Benjamin 
Franklin.) But on the second view, the principle of goodness will 
be exactly the same in whatever relation of life it is displayed. A 

1 That Protagoras actually took the line here suggested seems to follow 
from the well-known passage of the Theaetetus where the question is raised 
how Protagoras could reconcile his doctrine of " Man the measure " with his 
own claim to be able to teach " goodness." Socrates suggests that Protagoras 
might have pleaded that what he does for his pupils is not to give them 
" truer " views a thing impossible on the Homo men^ura theory but to give 
them "more useful" views (Theaetetus, i66a~i6Sc). This amounts to the 
suggestion of the text, that Protagoras believes himself to have a special 
aptitude for appreciating the tone of the current tradition of a community 
and impressing it on his hearers. 


man who really acquires one " virtue " will have to acquire all 
simultaneously (3290). 

Protagoras at once adopts the first alternative, that which 
recommends itself to average common sense. For he thinks it 
obvious that there are many brave but licentious men, and many 
" fair-dealing " men (SiWot), who are far from "wise." (Note the 
way in which the " quadrilateral " of the four great virtues is 
thus taken for granted by Protagoras, as by other speakers in 
Plato, as something already traditional.) l 

A view of this kind implies that each form of " goodness " has 
a function (SiW/xts) of its own, distinctive of it, and radically 
different from the function of any other form. (We have already 
seen that this view, widely current in ordinary society, is in sharp 
opposition to the Socratic theory, in which the great difficulty of 
defining a given " virtue " is that we regularly find ourselves driven 
to adopt a definition which is equally applicable to every other 
virtue.) We proceed to treat this position in the recognized Socratic 
fashion by examining its consequences. It will follow that 
" justice," to take an example, has a definite function, " piety " 
or " religion " another and a different function. Justice is not 
piety, and religion is not justice. But we cannot adopt the 
monstrous moral paradox that justice is impious, or that religion 
is " unjust," or wrong, though this would seem to follow from the 
complete disparity between the " functions " of the different 
virtues just asserted by Protagoras. 2 Hence Protagoras himself 
is driven to take back what he had just said about the radical 
disparity of the different forms of goodness. The matter is, after 
all, not so simple as all that ; there is some vague and unspecified 
resemblance between such different " parts " of goodness as piety 
and justice, though we cannot say exactly what or how close the 
resemblance is (3310). The reference to the scale of colours or 
hardnesses as illustrating the point (331^) shows that the meaning 
is that one virtue somehow " shades off " into a different one, though 
you cannot say exactly where the boundary-line should be drawn, 
as white shades off into black through a series of intermediate 

To expose the looseness of this way of thinking and speaking. 
Socrates resorts to another simple argument. Wisdom has been 
included by Protagoras in his list of forms of goodness, and the 
contrary opposite of wisdom is a<t>po<rvvrj (" folly "). But sophrosyne 

1 It seems to me that the same allusion must underlie the curious phrase 
of the poem of Simonides for the Scopadae shortly to be discussed, where the 
" complete " good man is called " four-cornered " (rerpd^wj/os &i>v \f/6yov rervy- 
M^os). Presumably we are dealing with a Pythagorean rer/oaKrtfy. It 
should be clear, at any rate, that the " quadrilateral " is no invention of Plato, 
since he represents it as familiar to so many of his fifth-century characters. 

1 The reasoning (33 la ff.) does not really commit the error of confounding 
otherness with contrary opposition. The point of the passage is actually to 
make the distinction, though in simple and non-technical language ; the sug- 
gestion that not- just (/Jj dlicaiov) = unjust (&dtKov) is made only that it may 
be at once rejected. 


is also* a virtue which we ascribe to men who act " rightly 
and beneficially." Now sophrosyne means by derivation moral 
" sanity/ 1 and its contrary opposite, the conduct of those who act 
"wrongly and harmfully/' is consequently aphrosyne (" folly"). 
For it is a principle of logic, which we can illustrate by an abundance 
of obvious examples, that cV cvl Ivavriov (every term has one and 
only one definite contrary). Further, what is done " in contrary 
senses" (evai/raos) must be done "by contraries," i.e. in virtue 
of contrary characters in the agents. Thus if we can oppose what is 
"foolishly" done to what is "sanely" or "temperately" done, 
we may also oppose " folly " to sophrosyne, temperance, moral 
sanity. But we have already opposed wisdom and folly as con- 
traries. On the principle then that one term (here "folly") has 
one and only one contrary opposite, wisdom and sophrosyne must 
be identified. Thus either we must abandon a fundamental logical 
principle, or we must give up the distinction between wisdom 
and sophrosyne, as our former argument was meant to show 
that we must give up the distinction between justice and piety 
(or religion). 

(The reasoning here appears at first sight to turn on a mere 
" accident " of language, the fact that profligacy happens to be 
spoken of in Greek as " folly." When we reflect on the familiarity 
of the corresponding expressions in all languages which have an 
ethical literature, we should rather infer that the fact is no accident, 
but valuable evidence of the truth of the main tenet of Socratic 
morality. The thought underlying the linguistic usage is clearly 
that all morally wrong action is the pursuit of something which is 
not what rightly informed intelligence would pronounce good, and 
it is always wise to pursue what is truly good and foolish to prefer 
anything else.) 

The next step in the argument is this. We have seen ground 
for identifying justice with piety and wisdom with temperance 
or moral sanity. This leaves us, so far, with two great types of 
" goodness," justice, regard for right, and moral sanity. But may 
we not further identify these two ? Can we really say of any act 
that it is " unjust," a violation of some one's rights, and yet that it is 
" morally sane " (<rw<j>pov) or " temperate " ? As a man of high 
character, Protagoras says that he personally would be ashamed to 
make such an assertion, but he knows that the " many " would 
make it. We may therefore examine the assertion simply as a 
piece of the current ethics of respectability, to see what it is worth 
(3336-0) - 1 We must be careful, then, to bear in mind that, from 

1 Observe that the highly prized virtue, courage (avdpela), seems to have 
fallen into the background. This is a piece of Plato's dramatic art. The 
identification of the other commonly recognized virtues with one another is 
comparatively easy. But to the popular mind there is something " irra- 
tional " in high courage ; it " ignores " the risks which " rational calculation " 
would take into account. The identification of courage with knowledge will 
therefore be the great crux for a rationalist moralist. Hence the discussion 
is deliberately reserved for the second half of Socrates' argument, 


the present onwards, Protagoras is avowedly acting as the dia- 
lectical advocate of a current morality which he personally regards 
as defective. It is not Protagoras of Abdera but the current ethics 
of respectability, for which he consents to appear as spokesman, that 
is on its trial. The question is whether a man who is acting " un- 
justly " can be acting with sophrosyne. In our time, as in that of 
Pericles, the average man would say that this is quite possible. 
A man may be " temperate " enough, he may be clear of all 
" licentiousness," but he may be greedy or ambitious and quite 
unscrupulous about infringing the " rights " of other men in pur- 
suing his greed or ambition. (Macaulay's character of Sunderland 
would be in point here as an illustration l ) In fact, it is proverbial 
that profligacy is a vice of youth and hot blood, avarice and am- 
bition vices of " cold " later age, and the " old young man " (like 
Joseph Surface) has always been specially unpopular with the 
ordinary satirist, who is commonly indulgent to the " rake," unless 
he happens to be an elderly rake. Socrates' conviction, like that of 
Dante, who punishes the prodigal and the miser in the same circle, 
is that Charles Surface and Joseph are brothers in the spirit, no 
less than in the flesh ; the antithesis of the Sheridans and Macaulays 
between the " generous" and the " mean " vices, is a false one ; 
there are no " generous vices," and no " milksop " virtues. 

Formally, the argument is not allowed to reach a conclusion ; 
Protagoras, finding his case hard to defend, tries to take refuge in 
irrelevancy by diverting attention to the theory of the " relativity " 
of good. Socrates has started with the linguistic identification of 
" temperance " with moral sanity. The man who behaves with 
moral sanity is the tv /SoiAcvo/Aci/os, the man who acts " with good 
counsel." Hence if a man can in the same act be both temperate 
and unjust, it must be possible to act with good counsel in violating 
a " right." But a man only shows himself to be acting with good 
counsel when he " succeeds " or " does well " by disregarding that 
right. Socrates is thus taking advantage of the ambiguity of the 
expression cu 7r/>aTTen>, which may either mean " to act well," or 
simply to " succeed in doing what you are proposing to do." How 
he would have continued the argument is indicated by his next 
question, " Do you recognize the existence of goods ? " He means, 
having got the admission that injustice is only "well-advised" 
when it is successful injustice, to argue that no injustice really does 
" succeed " in procuring the aggressor on another man's rights 
what he is really aiming at getting, real good or well-being ; it is 
always unsuccessful because it always involves sacrificing the good 
of the soul to something inferior (the thesis of the Gorgias and of the 
closing pages of Rep. i.). But the moment he shows his hand by 
and we are prepared for it by the long half-comic interlude in which the poem 
of Simonides is canvassed ; this is Plato's way of indicating that it is the 
hardest and most important section of the dialogue. 

* " He had no jovial generous vices. He cared little for wine or beauty ; 
but he desired riches with an ungovernable and insatiable desire," etc. etc. 
(History, c. 6). 


asking whether "good things" do not mean "what is beneficial 
to man/' Protagoras tries to escape the development he foresees 
by delivering a wholly irrelevant homily on the thesis that what is 
good for one animal may be bad for another, and what is good for 
man taken externally as a lotion, may be very bad if taken internally, 
in short that nothing can be pronounced good absolutely and uncon- 
ditionally. This is, of course, a direct and simple application of 
Protagoras 1 own principle of " man the measure " to ethics, and 
the facts to which Protagoras appeals are all real facts ; only they 
have no bearing on the issue at stake. It is true that I may be 
poisoned by drinking something which would have done me good 
if I had used it as an embrocation, that I should damage my health 
if I tried to live on the diet on which a horse thrives, and so forth. 
It does not in the least follow that there are not "good activities 
of the soul/' which are absolutely good in the sense that it is good 
that any man should exhibit them at any and every time, and that 
scrupulous respect for " rights " is not one of these goods, and 
possibly the best of them. In common fairness, we may suppose 
that Protagoras is alive to this, and that he is simply doing his best 
for his client, the ethics of the average man, by diverting the atten- 
tion of the audience from the weak point of his case. 1 

IV. INTERLUDE. The Poem of Simonides (3340-3480). At 
this point the conversation threatens to end in a general confusion, 
and the interrupted argument is only resumed after a long and 
apparently irrelevant episode. The main reason for the intro- 
duction of the episode has already been explained. The argument 
for the Socratic " paradoxes " makes a severe demand on the 
reader's power of hard thinking, and the most difficult part of it 
is yet to come. The strain of attention therefore requires to be 
relaxed, if we are to follow Socrates to his conclusion with full 
understanding. Plato also wants an opportunity to produce two 
striking dramatic effects. He wishes to contrast the manner of 
the " sophist," who is highly plausible so long as he has the argu- 
ment to himself, but gets into difficulty the moment he is confronted 
by close criticism with the manner of Socrates, who cares nothing 
for eloquent plausibility and everything for careful and exact 
thinking. And he wants to provide a part in the drama for the 
secondary characters, Prodicus and Hippias ; they will get no 
chance of a " speaking part " while Protagoras and Socrates occupy 
the centre of the stage. Hence I think we should take the whole 
of this long interlude as intended mainly to be humorous "relief," 
a gay picture of the manners of cultivated Athenian society in the 
later years of the Periclean age, and not much more. 

The fun opens with the humorous pretence of Socrates that, in 
* To judge from the Theaetetus, Protagoras had actually made the obvious 
application of the Homo mensura doctrine to ethics for himself (Burner., 
Greek Philosophy, Part I., 1167). It leads directly to that identification 
of " virtue " with what a respectable society actually approves which is the 
foundation of his explanation of his own educational theory and practice, 
and is common ground to " subjectivists " in ethics. 


kindness to his " shortness of memory," Protagoras should curb 
his eloquence and make his answers to questions as brief as he can. 
(The self-depreciation is, of course, fun. Socrates means that he 
would like fewer words and more thought ; but the implied criticism 
has to be made with due regard for " manners.") Protagoras is a 
little huffed by the suggestion that the other party to the discussion 
should prescribe the character of his responses ; Socrates politely 
expresses his regret for the weakness to which he has referred, and 
discovers that he has an engagement elsewhere, and the party 
thus seems to be on the point of dissolution, when the auditors 
intervene to prevent such a misfortune. The point of chief interest 
in the general conversation thus caused is provided by the enter- 
taining burlesque of Prodicus, the great authority on the right 
use of words. All he really has to say is that the audience who 
listen to a discussion should give a fair hearing, without fear or 
favour, to both parties, and assign the victory to the party who 
makes out the better case. But his remarks are so disfigured by 
the mannerism of stopping to discriminate each of the terms he 
uses from some other with which it might conceivably be confused, 
that it takes him half one of Stephanus's pages to make his remark. 
It is clear that the real Prodicus (who, as we must remember, 
actually survived the execution of Socrates, and so must have 
been a well-remembered figure to many of the first readers of our 
dialogue) must have been very much of a formal pedant in manner, 
or the stress laid on the point by Plato would be unintelligible. 
No doubt we are also to understand that the defect is being ex- 
aggerated for legitimate comic effect. But it is not likely that the 
exaggeration is very gross. Prodicus was trying to make a be- 
ginning with the foundations of an exact prose style, and it would 
be quite natural that, once impressed with the importance of dis- 
tinguishing between " synonyms," he should ride his hobby to 
death. We know from the remains of Varro's de lingua Latina, from 
Quintilian, Aulus Gellius, and others, to what lengths the men who 
attempted to perform the same services for Latin were prepared to 
go, and it is likely that if the writings of the " sophists " had been 
preserved, we should have found that Prodicus was not outstripped 
by his Roman imitators. There is no trace of any personal malice 
or dislike in the entertaining sketch Plato has given us. Hippias 
is allowed to make a speech of about the same length, his main 
point being to mark his disagreement with the partisans of " con- 
vention," and his conviction that the whole company, in spite of 
the differences of " conventional " political allegiance, are all 
" naturally " fellow-citizens. His tone is exactly that of a cosmo- 
politan eighteenth-century philosophe. Since Xenophon (Mem. 
iv. 4) pits Hippias and Socrates against one another as champions 
of <uVis and i/o/xo? respectively, this cosmopolitanism is presumably 
a real trait of Hippias, though we cannot be sure that Xenophon 
is not simply developing a hint taken from the Protagoras itself. 
But even so, his representation shows that he thought Plato's 


little picture true to life in its main point. None of the interveners 
in the general conversation shows any sense of the real bearing 
of the argument which has just broken down. All treat it as a 
mere contest of verbal skill between two parties, each of whom is 
" talking for victory/' In the end, a heated disagreement is only 
avoided by the consent of Protagoras to submit to further cross- 
questioning, if he may first be allowed to deliver another speech. 
He absolutely declines Socrates' proposal to submit himself to 
be questioned and to give an example of what he thinks the right 
way to meet criticism (338^-0). The scene which ensues can 
hardly be understood as anything but broad comedy. Protagoras, 
having carried his point about the delivery of a set speech on a 
theme of his own choosing, remarks that it is an important part 
of " culture " to understand the poets and criticize their perform- 
ances, and that he will accordingly now expound and criticize 
a poem composed by Simonides for the Scopadae. This is a task 
suggested naturally by the previous course of the conversation, 
as the contents of the poem have to do with " goodness/' 

Unfortunately the poem (Fr. 3 in the Anthology of Hiller- 
Crusius, 12 of Schneidewin) has to be reconstructed from the 
Protagoras itself, and the reconstruction can be neither complete 
nor certain, so that we are not entitled to speak with too much 
confidence about the precise drift of the poet. The general sense, 
appropriate enough in an encomium of a half-barbaric Thessalian 
chief, seems to be that it is idle to expect complete and all-round 
" goodness " in any man ; there are difficult situations out of which 
no human goodness comes with credit. We must be content to call 
a man " good," if his general conduct shows regard for right (&'*ca), 
if he never misbehaves without highly extenuating circumstances ; 
absolute superiority to circumstance can only be expected in a god. 
The impression one gets is that one is reading a paid panegyric 
on a magnate against whom there is the memory of some shocking 
deed or deeds which the eulogist wishes to excuse or palliate by the 
" tyrant's plea, necessity." l 

The point on which Protagoras fastens is this. Simonides takes 
occasion to comment unfavourably on the saying commonly 
ascribed to Pittacus that "it is hard to be good " (xaXcTrov foOXbv 
C/A/ACVCU). But he has just said the very same thing himself in 

almost the Same words (avSp* ayaObv p.V aA.a0co)S yevccr&u ^a\ir6v). 

He has thus committed the absurdity of censuring Pittacus for 
the very sentiment he has just uttered as his own (339^). 

Socrates now seizes the opportunity to defend the poet by the 
aid of Prodicus and his famous art of discriminating between words. 
The point, he says, is that whereas Pittacus had said that it is hard 

1 Simonides writes much as a poet would have to do if he were composing 
an ode in praise of William III and felt that he could not be silent about the 
murder of the De Witts and the Glencoe massacre. The apologetic tone 
shows that his hero had done something which was regarded by most persons 
as highly criminal. 


to be (<f/x/Avcu) good, Simonides says that it is hard to become, 
(yeve'cr&u) good ; " to be " is one thing, " to become " another, 
and thus there is no formal contradiction between denying that it 
is hard to be good and asserting that it is hard to become good. 
But, objects Protagoras, this distinction only makes matters worse 
for Simonides ; if he denies that it is hard to be good, he must mean 
that it is easy to possess goodness, and the common sense of all 
mankind is against him. Socrates is ready with a rejoinder. 
Possibly Simonides, like his fellow-Cean Prodicus, was a votary of 
precision of speech, and regarded the employment of x a ^ ir v m 
the sense of " difficult " as a misuse of words, just as Prodicus 
objects to the common colloquial use of the word " awful " (Sctvos) 
in such phrases as " awful wealth " (detvo? Tdonto;), on the ground 
that only bad things can properly be called " awful." Let Prodicus, 
as a fellow-countryman, tell us what Simonides really meant by 
XaAcTroi/. Prodicus at once says he meant KO.KOV ("bad"). 1 If 
that is so, Pittacus was, from his Lesbian ignorance of the exact 
meaning of a Greek word, unconsciously uttering the senseless 
statement that " it is bad to be good/' and Simonides was right in 
objecting this to him. Prodicus at once accepts this explanation, 
but Protagoras naturally rejects it as ridiculous. " So it is," says 
Socrates, " and you may be sure Prodicus is only making fun of 

us" (341*). . 

(So far, it is clear that the whole tone of the passage about 
Simonides is playful. Plato is laughing, as he often does, at the 
fifth-century fashion of trying to extract moral principles from the 
remarks of poets, especially of poets with a reputation, like 
Simonides, for worldly wisdom and a shrewd regard for the interests 
of " number one." The mock- respectful discussion of another 
dictum of the same poet in Republic i. is couched in exactly the 
same tone. The solemn pedantry of Prodicus is a second subject 
of mockery. But the main stroke is aimed at the superficiality 
of Protagoras. With all his eloquence about the value of a critical 
study of " literature," his ideal of criticism is to fasten on the first 
and most obvious weak point, and make an end of the matter. He 
has shown his cleverness by catching Simonides in a verbal contra- 
diction ; he does not see the need of an attempt to understand the 
drift of his poem as a whole, or to consider whether the apparent 
contradiction will vanish when taken in the light of the general 
context. We are all only too familiar with this sort of " criticism," 
which aims at nothing more than the commendation or censure of 
individual phrases, while it lets " the whole " go unregarded.) 

Socrates now undertakes to propound an interpretation which 
will pay due regard to the meaning of the whole poem (3420). He 
introduces it by some general observations, the tone of which ought 

1 The suggestion is not quite so absurd as it looks, absurd as it is. 
in the sense " a hard thing to bear," may often be paraphrased by 
without injury to sense. Cf. Pindar's repirvQw xaXeirdr re Kpliris (" issues of weal 
and woe " ), or Homer's xaXcirAv yijpa.s (//. 6 103) ( " grim old age ' ' ), and the like. 


to settle the question whether we a^e to take his exegesis in earnest 
or not. Crete and Sparta are really the most philosophical com- 
munities in the Greek world, and " sophists " abound there more 
than anywhere else ; but they conceal the fact from mankind at 
large by passing themselves off as rough fighting-men, and by 
vigilantly discouraging intercourse with other cities, so that they 
may keep their wisdom for their own exclusive benefit. This is 
why the ordinary Spartan startles you from time to time by the 
pungency and pertinence of his " dry " and brief apophthegms. 
They are all the product of this unique " Spartan culture." The 
famous " seven sages " the list of them given in this passage is the 
earliest extant were all trained in this school, and Pittacus was 
one of them. Hence his saying " it is hard to be good " was much 
admired as a piece of this sententious " philosophy/' and Simonides, 
being an ambitious man, wished to win a great reputation by refuting 
it. This is the object of his whole poem (342^-3430) . 

(It ought not to have to be said that this whole representation 
of Sparta and Crete, the least " intellectual " communities of 
Hellas, and the two which Socrates himself takes as his models in 
Republic viii. in describing the State which has made the mistake 
of " neglecting education," is furious fun. Socrates is diverting 
himself by his whimsical suggestions that the " laconizing " fashion- 
ables of other cities, who affect the dress and appearance of prize- 
fighters, are all the while imitating the wrong thing, the pretence 
under which the Spartans disguise their real interests, and that the 
" superiority of Sparta " is really based not on military prowess 
and success but on intellectual eminence. And if the explanation 
which introduces the exposition of the poem of Simonides is thus 
sheer fun, we are bound in common sense to expect that the exposi- 
tion will turn out to be mainly fun too.) 

We are now given the professed exegesis of the poem, which 
is only arrived at by a series of violences done to its language. 
Simonides must be understood as correcting the saying "it is 
hard to be good " by saying " no, the truly hard thing is not to be, 
but to become a thoroughly good man, though this is possible. 
To be permanently good is not hard, but absolutely impossible 
for a man ; it is only possible to a god." A man, as Simonides 
goes on to say, cannot help proving " bad " when he is " struck 
down " by irretrievable misfortunes. Now no one who is already 
down can be struck down. Hence Simonides must mean by a 
" man," an " expert," a wise and good man, and his meaning is 
shown by the fact that he goes on to say that a man is " good " 

as long as he " does Well " (7rpaas p\v yap ev ?ras avr/p dya0os). For 

the man who " does well," or " succeeds " in anything is the man 
who knows how the thing ought to be done, the man who " does 
ill " is always the man whose knowledge fails him. Simonides is 
thus made, by an arbitrary exegesis, to bear witness to the Socratic 
doctrine that " goodness " and knowledge are the same (3456). 
His meaning is that it is hard to become good but impossible for 


man to be permanently good, because of the limitations and imper- 
fections of all human knowledge. 

The rest of the poem develops the same thought. In par- 
ticular, when the poet says that he will " praise and love the man 
who does no deed of shame willingly/' (CKWV oo-rts epfy /x-^v alvxpov,) 
we are not to take his words in what seems their natural grammatical 
sense. The " cultured " Simonides must be supposed to know 
that it is a vulgar error to suppose that anyone would do evil 
voluntarily. Hence the CKWV must be taken by an extravagant 
hyperbaton with the words which precede it, so that the sense is, 
11 1 readily praise and love the man who does no deeds of shame " 
(though my profession sometimes unfortunately requires me to pay 
constrained compliments to " tyrants " who have committed 

Though there have been commentators who have taken 
Socrates' exposition of the poem as perfectly serious, the blunder 
ought to be impossible to any man with a sense of humour or of the 
necessity of maintaining a dramatic unity of spirit throughout a 
scene. We have been prepared for the discussion of the verses by 
an introductory homily on the devotion of Sparta to " culture/' 
which is manifestly the merest playful humour ; we are fairly 
entitled to suspect Socrates whenever we find him pretending to 
discover deep philosophic truth in the compositions of any " poet," 
and particularly in those of the poet who had become a byword for 
his adroit and profitable flatteries of " the great " ; his purpose 
should be made unmistakable by the forced character of the verbal 
constructions he is driven to advocate. Clearly we are dealing 
with an amusing " skit " on the current methods of extracting 
any doctrine one pleases from a poet by devices which can make 
anything mean anything. Socrates is amusing himself by showing 
that, if he chooses to play at the game, he can beat the recognized 
champions, just as in the Parmenides Plato amuses himself by 
showing that he can, if he likes, outdo the constructors of " antin- 
omies " in the use of their own weapons. The one thing in the 
whole of the " lecture " on the verses of Simonides which is not 
playful is Socrates' insistence on the doctrine that wrongdoing is 
error, and is therefore not " voluntary.'' Here he is in intense 
earnest, but the device by which he extracts the doctrine from the 
text of Simonides by an impossible " punctuation " is itself merely 
playful, just as his suggestion that what he well knew to be the 
" paradox " of his own theory is so universally admitted by all 
thinking men that it is incredible Simonides should not accept it, 
is equally playful. He knows that the very proposition he repre- 
sents as too well known to be ignored by Simonides will be rejected 
as an extravagance by his audience when he conies shortly to 
defend it. His object in getting it into the otherwise whimsical 
exposition of Simonides is simply to bring back the discussion to 
the original issues from which it has been allowed to diverge, and 
he has the natural delight of a humorist in clothing his thesis in 


the most provocative and arresting words he can find. How far 
he is from expecting his excursus into literature to be taken seriously 
is shown by his remark that he has now discharged his part of a 
bargain by allowing Protagoras to deliver a second speech, and 
would be glad if Protagoras would honour the agreement by return- 
ing to the interrupted discussion. For his own part, he thinks it 
unprofitable to spend our time debating the meaning of the poets, 
whom we cannot call directly into court ; it is much better to let 
them alone and try to get at truth by the direct interplay of our 
own thoughts (3470-3480) . 

V. THE MAIN ARGUMENT RESUMED. The Identity of Goodness 
with Knowledge, and its Consequences (3480-360^).- Now that 
Socrates has succeeded in bringing back the conversation to the 
point where it had been broken off, he carefully restates the question, 
with a polite assurance that he is not talking for victory but honestly 
asking the help of Protagoras towards the clarification of his own 
thought. The question is whether the names of the great virtues 
are different names for one and the same thing (349^), or whether 
to each of these names there answers " a peculiar reality or object 

with its own Special function " (tStos ova'ia KOL Trpay/xa t\ov cavroi) 

SvVa/uv, where note that the word ova-la, exactly as in the Euthyphro, 
implies the whole of the " doctrine of forms/' expounded in the 
Phaedo). Protagoras has been so far impressed by the former 
arguments of Socrates that he now restates his original opinion 
with a large modification. He admits that most of the " parts of 
goodness " are " fairly like one another," but holds that di/fym'a, 
valour, courage, has a distinct character of its own. This is a 
matter of everyday observation, for it is a manifest fact that many 
men are singularly brave, but have no other virtuous quality ; they 
have no regard for rights, no religion, no command over their 
passions, no prudence. (The view is a familiar one ; it is habitually 
adopted, for example, in the character-sketches of a work like 
Macaulay's History. It implies, of course, that its supporters 
identify dvSpct'a with the " popular " courage which the Phaedo 
pronounces to be a counterfeit of true valiancy, mere hardihood 
in the face of perils.) The first point which has to be made against 
this position is that it rests on the false conversion of a true pro- 
position. It amounts to identifying " the valiant " with the 
" confident " or " fearless " (flappaXcot). Now it is true that 
all brave men are fearless, but it is not true that all the " confident " 
or " fearless " are truly brave, and the two classes, therefore, 
cannot be identified. In the absence of a logical terminology, this 
point has to be made by examples. Men who have learned a 
" d'angerous " accomplishment, such as diving, fighting in the 
cavalry, or the like, will be " fearless " in facing the risks they have 
learned to deal with, as we also call them " brave " divers or 
fighters But persons who have never learned to dive or to manage 
a horse will also sometimes be reckless in throwing themselves 
into the water or plunging into a charge. But this, Protagoras 


says, is not valour ; it is simply madness. (He means, of course, 
that there is no valour in taking a risk simply because you are not 
alive to its magnitude. True valour involves consciousness of 
the risk you are facing.) Protagoras accordingly points out that 
though he had admitted that the valiant are fearless, he had not 
admitted the converse, and complains that Socrates is treating 
him unfairly (of course, Socrates' real object was simply to lead up 
to the making of the distinction). It is true that fearlessness may 
be the effect of knowledge, but it may also be the effect of high 
temper (0v/xos) or mere frenzy (/uum'a) ; hence the superior fear- 
lessness of the man who has learned to swim or to use his weapons 
is no proof that courage (as distinct from mere fearlessness) is the 
same thing as "'wisdom " or knowledge (<ro<ia). In fact, Protag- 
oras holds that the fearlessness which deserves to be called valour 
is due not to knowledge but to something else, " nature " (<f>vo-L<s) 
and a " thriving " or " well-fed " state of soul (curpo^ta TW \j/vxw, 
3516), just as physical strength is not due to knowledge but to 
bodily constitution and sound nourishment. 1 

Thus the question whether valour can be shown, as Protagoras 
now admits that the other leading forms of " goodness " can be, to 
be knowledge, requires us to raise still more fundamental questions. 
We admit that one may live well or live ill, and that the man who 
lives a life of pain and misery is not living well, but the man who 
lives a pleasant life is. May we say then that the pleasant life is 
the good life, the unpleasant life the bad ? Protagoras wishes to 
stipulate that the pleasure must be " pleasure in fine, or noble, 
things" (TOIS KaAots, 35 ic), thus anticipating Mill's "distinction of 
qualities " of pleasure. But might we not say that things are 
good just in so far as they are pleasant, and bad in so far as they are 
unpleasant, so that good and pleasant are synonyms ? Protagoras 
thinks it due to his character to maintain that this is not true ; 
there are bad pleasures and good pains, and there are both pleasures 
and pains which are neither good nor bad. But he is willing to 
treat the suggestion, in the Socratic manner, 2 as one for further 
investigation. (It is very important, then, to remark that the 
Hedonist identification of good with pleasant comes into the con- 
versation, in the first instance, aj problematic ; it is to be adopted 
or rejected according as its implications approve themselves or 
do not.) And the question about the relation between pleasure 

1 The precise position is, and is meant to be, vague. The champion of 
?6/iOf is clearly conceding more importance to ^ifou (" original temperament ") 
than we might have expected of him from his earlier utterances. This part 
of the Protagoras has directly suggested Aristotle's observations about the 
" fearlessness " produced by ^uret/>(a or by native Bvpfa (E.N. nibb 3 ff.). 

a 35i &<rirfp <fb X^7s, $ty, /cd0rore, u> Su>v/>ar, <rKOirujj,0a aM, KT\. Thus 
Protagoras knows all about the Socratic method of " hypothesis " expounded 
in the Phaedo. We must suppose that he had learned of it on the earlier 
occasion when he had met Socrates and formed a high opinion of his abilities. 
Rightly read, the Protagoras confirms the Phaedo in a way which can hardly 
be accounted for except by supposing that both are portraits of the same 


and good directly raises another fundamental issue. The popular 
opinion is that " knowledge " has not much influence on conduct. 
It is held that a man often knows quite well that something is good 
or evil, but acts " against his better knowledge," which is mastered 
by " temper/' or " pleasure," or " pain," or " lust," as the case 
may be. But may it not be that the popular opinion is wrong, 
and that if a man knows good and evil, nothing will ever prevail 
on him to act contrary to his knowledge ? Protagoras thinks that 
it would only be proper in a professional teacher of goodness, like 
himself, to take this view, and Socrates expresses his firm con- 
viction of its truth. 1 But, since most men think otherwise, we, 
who dissent from them, must give a correct analysis of the facts 
they have in mind when they talk of a man's judgment as " over- 
come " by pleasure or pain, and satisfy them that the popular 
analysis of these facts is inaccurate (3530). We might, in fact, 
ask the mass of men, who profess to believe that a man can be 
seduced by the prospect of pleasure or frightened by that of pain 
into doing, against his better knowledge, what he recognizes to 
be evil, the following questions : (a) When you talk of something 
as pleasant but evil, do you not mean simply that the pleasant 
thing in question leads to painful consequences, and when you call 
some things good but unpleasant, do you not mean that, though 
unpleasant for the time being, they lead to pleasurable conse- 
quences ? " The many " would readily admit this, and thus 
would (b) commit themselves to the view that good and evil are 
identical with pleasant and painful. In fact (c) they would admit 
that the end they always pursue is getting the " greatest possible 
balance of pleasure over pain " (354c-e). It follows at once that, 
on the showing of the " many " themselves, the experience which 
they call " being overcome by pleasure or by pain " is really making 
a false estimate of pleasures and pains. To be " overcome " means 
" to take a greater amount of evil in exchange for a smaller amount 
of good " (3560), and on the hypothesis we are examining, " good " 
means " pleasure " and " evil " means " pain." Errors of conduct 
are thus on the same level as false estimates of number, size, and 
weight. Now we are preserved from mistakes about number, size, 
weight, by the arts or sciences (TC'XVCU) of counting, measuring, and 
weighing. In the same way we need to be preserved from false 
estimates in moral choice by a similar art of estimating the relative 
magnitudes of " lots " of prospective goods and evils, that is to 
say, prospective pleasures and pains, in fact by an " hedonic 
calculus," which will terminate disputes. And a " calculus," of 
course, is " knowledge," or " science." An argument of this 
kind ought to reconcile the " many " themselves to the view that 

1 352*2 2-4. Note that Socrates definitely commits himself to one oi th 
two premisses of the argument which is to follow, the proposition that no 
one really acts against his own knowledge of good and evil. He never 
commits himself to the other premiss, the Hedonistic doctrine that good is 
pleasure. This remains a suggestion for examination. 


wrong choice, the victory of passion over knowledge as they call 
it, is really nothing but miscalculation, and therefore that wrong 
action is due to error and is always involuntary (357-358). 

It is on this section of the dialogue that the notion of a Platonic 
" Hedonism " has been erected, with the consequence that one of 
two equally impossible inferences has to be made, either that there 
is no consistent ethical doctrine to be found in the dialogues 
Plato allows himself at pleasure to argue for or against any view 
which interests him for the moment (the theory of Grote) or that 
the Protagoras expresses an "early theory" which is afterwards 
abandoned when we come to the Gorgias and Phaedo. Careful 
reading will show that neither of these conceptions is justified. 
Neither Protagoras nor Socrates is represented as adopting the 
Hedonist equation of good with pleasure. The thesis which Socrates 
is committed to is simply that of the identity of goodness and know- 
ledge. The further identification of good with pleasure is carefully 
treated, as we have seen, as one neither to be affirmed nor denied. 
We are concerned solely with investigating its consequences. One 
of these consequences would be that what is commonly called 
" yielding to passion against our better knowledge " is a form of 
intellectual error and is involuntary, since it means choosing a 
smaller " lot of pleasure " when you might choose a greater. (These 
consequences are, in fact, habitually drawn by Hedonists.) Hedon- 
ism thus is in accord with the doctrines of Socrates on one point, 
its reduction of wrong choice to involuntary error, and for that 
reason Socrates says that you can make the apparent paradoxes of 
his ethics acceptable to mankind at large, if you also adopt the 
Hedonist equation, good= pleasure. (The " many," in fact, do 
in practice accept this equation, because they are votaries of some 
form of the /Jt'os <iXoxp^aros.) It does not follow that because 
Socrates agrees with vulgar Hedonism on the point that wrong 
choice is involuntary error and arises from lack of knowledge of 
good, that he identifies knowledge of good, as the Hedonist does, 
with calculation of the sizes of " lots " of pleasure and pain. 
All he wants to show is that even from the point of view of the 
persons who mistake "popular goodness" for genuine goodness, 
it is no paradox to say that goodness is knowledge of some sort ; 
the Hedonist is a "rationalist " in his ethics, though his " rational- 
ism " may not be of the right kind. That this is all that is meant is 
clear from the way in which Socrates is careful to insist over and 
over again that the appeal is being made to the standards of " the 
mass of mankind." We must also not forget that the appeal to the 
unconscious Hedonism of the average man is being made for a 
further special purpose. The object of convincing the average man 
that, on his own assumptions, goodness is a matter of right calcula- 
tion, is to prepare the way for the further proof that, even on these 
assumptions, courage can be brought under the same principle as 
all the rest of " goodness." When we thus take the argument in 
its proper context, we see that the Protagoras no more teaches 


Hedonism than the Phaedo, which also represents the morality of 
average men as a business of estimating pleasures and pains against 
one another. Rightly interpreted, Gorgias, Phaedo, Protagoras, 
are all in accord on the one doctrine to which Socrates commits 
himself in the present section of our dialogue, the doctrine that 
" goodness " is knowledge. The confusion between " knowledge 
of the good " and computation of pleasures and pains is given, in the 
Protagoras as in the other dialogues, for what it is, a confusion of 
the " average man/ 1 and for nothing more. 

To come to the application to the problem about dvSpcfa. What 
is it that the courageous face, but the cowardly refuse to face ? 
The current answer is that it is " dangers " (ra 8va). But 
" danger " means an anticipated evil, and we have just seen that even 
the average man, when he comes to theorize about his own practice, 
holds that no one " goes to face " what he believes to be evil for 
him. The very fact that he chooses to face the situation shows that 
he regards it as the "lesser evil " to do so. The real reason, then, 
why some men face the risks of war but others run away, must be 
that the former judge that more good, which to them means more 
pleasure, is to be got by standing your ground than by running 
away ; the latter think that they will get more good, and again they 
mean more pleasure, by running. If we praise the one and 
condemn the others, we are praising a true (and also condemning 
a false) calculation about the " balance of pleasure over pain/' 
The brave man of everyday life faces the present pain and peril 
because he has correctly calculated that endurance of it will lead 
to a greater balance of pleasure than flinching. Thus even the 
unconscious theory of the average man at bottom implies the view 
that courage is ^ matter of knowing what is and what is not for- 
midable (<ro<ia TCOV Seivaiv KCU JJLIJ Seii/ah/, 36oc). This is, in fact, 

exactly what Socrates says about " popular " courage in the Phaedo. 
(That what the " many " suppose to be knowledge of the good 
namely, knowledge of the hedonic consequences of your act is 
something very different from what Socrates means by knowledge 
of the good is true, but irrelevant to the present argument, which 
only aims at showing that, even if you adopt the working morality 
of the average man, courage stands on the same footing as the 
other " virtues." From his standpoint, it resolves itself, like the 
rest, into calculation of hedonic consequences ; from Socrates' stand- 
point, it and all the rest issue from knowledge of the true and 
eternal good.) 

VI. EPILOGUE. Our discourse has, after all, only ended by 
bringing us in face of the really fundamental problem, what true 
" goodness " is (3600). (This remark, again, shows that Socrates 
is not represented as accepting the Hedonism which he finds to be 
the unconscious assumption of the average man. We have seen 
clearly enough what " goodness " is, on that theory.) In fact, we 
have ended by exchanging positions in a very entertaining fashion. 
Protagoras, who began by being sure that goodness can be taught 


and that he can teach it, seems now to be equally sure that, what- 
ever goodness is, it is not the one thing which can be taught, know- 
ledge ; Socrates, who began by raising the doubt whether it can be 
taught, is now doing his best to prove that it must be knowledge 
and nothing else. And here the party breaks up, with a last word 
of graceful compliment on the part of Protagoras. He has often 
testified to his admiration of Socrates' parts and rates him far above 
all other persons of his years ; he would not be surprised if he 
should yet become famous for his " wisdom." 

Of course, the apparent paradox of which Socrates speaks can 
be very simply explained. What he doubted was whether the 
sort of " goodness " of which the public men of Athens are examples 
can be taught. Since this " goodness " is just another name for 
" tactful management " of affairs, it obviously cannot be " taught." 
A man has to acquire tact by the handling of affairs and men for 
himself ; you cannot teach the theory of it. But political tact is 
something very different from anything Socrates understood by 
goodness. There is thus no real confusion or shifting of ground, 
so far as he is concerned. Protagoras is in a different position. 
By his own showing, the " goodness " he aims at teaching is just 
the secret of political success, and political success really does 
depend on a " tact " which cannot be taught. Hence Protagoras 
really does combine incompatible positions when he asserts both 
that " goodness " is not knowledge, and also that it can be taught. 
If by " goodness " we mean what Protagoras defined as " success 
in managing the affairs of your household and city," he is right in 
maintaining that goodness is not knowledge, but clearly wrong in 
holding that it is an " art " which he can teach. 1 

See further : 

RITTER, C. Platon, i. 308-342. 

RAEDER, H. Platans philosophische Entwickelung, 106-111. 

NATORP, P. Platons Ideenlehre, 10-18. 

GOMPERZ, TH. Griechische Denker, i. 250-264. 

STEWART, J. A. The Myths of Plato, 212-258 (The Protagoras 
Myth) . 

DITTMAR, H. Aeschines von Sphettus, 186-212 (on Aeschines' 
dialogue Callias, where, however, the author's chronology 
of the life of Callias is wrong. Callias had two sons, both in 
at least their later 'teens in 399. ApoL 2oa-c.) 

1 Cf. Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, Part /., 170-179. 


THE Republic is at once too long a work, and too well known 
by numerous excellent summaries and commentaries, to 
require or permit analysis on the scale we have found 
necessary in dealing with the Phaedo or Protagoras. We must be 
content to presume the student's acquaintance with its contents, 
and to offer some general considerations of the relation of its main 
theses to one another and to those of dialogues already examined. 

To begin with, it is desirable to have a definite conception of 
the assumed date of the conversation and the character of the 
historical background presupposed. It should be clear that Athens 
is supposed to be still, to all appearance at any rate, at the height 
of her imperial splendour and strength. 1 Also, the time is appar- 
ently one of profound peace. No reference is made to military 
operations ; though the company consists mainly of young men of 
military age, no explanation of their presence at home is offered. 
Yet Plato's two elder brothers, Adimantus and Glaucon, who are 
both young men, have already distinguished themselves in a battle 
near Megara (3680), which can hardly be any other than that of the 
year 424 (Thuc. iv. 72). We have to add that the sophist Thrasy- 
machus is assumed to be at the height of his fame, and we know 
that he was already prominent enough to be made the butt of a 
jest in the first play of Aristophanes, produced in the year 427.2 
Similarly, the tone of Socrates' initial remarks about old age as an 
unknown road on which he will yet have to travel shows that we 
are to think of him as still very far from the age (sixty) at which a 
man officially became a ytpw at Athens. Damonides of Oea is 
referred to at 400^ as still alive, and since we have the evidence of 
Isocrates for the statement that he " educated " Pericles, we cannot 
suppose him to have been born much, if at all, later than the year 
500. All these considerations, taken together, suggest that the 
supposed date of the conversation must be about the time of the 

1 This is made especially clear by the tone of the satire on democracy viii. 
557 fif., where it is unmistakably the powerful, opulent, and formidable democ- 
racy of the Archidamian war that Socrates is depicting. The year 411, assumed 
as the dramatic date by some commentators, is about the worst of all possible 
choices. It is rendered impossible by the fact that in the Republic, Cephalus, 
the father of Polemarchus and Lysias, is still alive, though an old man. The 
date is thus before his death and the removal of his sons to Thurii, whence they 
returned, after a good number of years, to Athens in 411 (Vit. Lysiae, c. i). 

1 Aristoph., Fr. 198. 

a6 3 


peace of Nicias (421 B.C.) or the preceding truce of 422. It is im- 
portant to remember that Athens came out of the Archidamian 
war, though not quite on the terms she might have got, but for the 
folly of the democratic leaders after Sphacteria (425), far and away 
the richest and most powerful of the combatant states, with the 
main of her empire intact. For purposes of illustration the student 
should read by the side of the Republic, the Wasps and Peace of 
Aristophanes, as illustrative of the conditions of the time. Socrates 
must be thought of as being no more than middle-aged, somewhere 
about fifty years old, and we must bear in mind that it was at 
most a couple of years before that Aristophanes had brought him 
on the stage in the Clouds. Plato himself would be a mere child 
of some five to seven years. 

There is nothing in the dialogue to support any of the fanciful 
modern speculations about a possible " earlier edition " without 
the central books which discuss the character and education of the 
" philosopher-kings/' or the possible existence of the first book by 
itself as a" dialogue of search." On the contrary, the appearances 
are all in favour of regarding the whole as having been planned as 
a whole. It is not until we come to the sixth book that we are 
in sight of the " goodness " which is one and the same thing with 
knowledge ; the goodness of the " guardians " of Republic ii.-iv. 
has been carefully marked as remaining all along at the level of 
" opinion. 1 ' It rises no higher than loyalty to a sound national 
tradition taken on trust, and is thus so far on a level with the 
" popular " goodness of the Phaedo, though the tradition in this 
case is that of a morally sounder society than that of Athens, or 
of any existing Greek TroXi?. 1 Hence it is inconceivable that Plato 
should ever have composed a Republic which ignored the central 
points of Socratic ethics. The first book, again, serves its present 
purpose as an introduction to the whole work perfectly. In outline, 
all the main ideas which underlie the description of the ideal man 
and the ideal society are there, the conception of the life of measure 
(in the argument about TrAcovcfta), the thought of happiness as 
dependent on " function " or vocation, and the rest ; but all are 
stated, as they should be in an Introduction, in their abstract form ; 
their real significance only becomes apparent as they are clothed 
with concrete detail in the full-length picture of the good man and 
the good community. To me it is inconceivable that Republic i. 
should ever have been planned except as the introduction to a work 
covering the ground of the Republic as we have it. 2 

1 This is why in Book IV. the virtues, as practised in the " reformed " city, 
are still distinguishable, so that different virtues are most specially prominent 
in different sections of society, and, again, why we are told at iv. 430^ 3 that 
the account just given of courage is adequate only as a description of " citizen " 
courage, and may have to be revised later on. The " unity of the virtues " 
only emerges in Republic vi. when we come to discuss the character of the 
" philosopher- king." 

The only specious argument for an earlier Urstaat is that, at the 
beginning of the Timaeus, where Socrates is made to recapitulate the contents 


it has sometimes been asked whether the Republic is to be 
regarded as a contribution to ethics or to politics. Is its subject 
" righteousness/' or is it the "ideal* state >N j& The answer is that 
from the point of view of Socrates and Plato there is no distinction,, 
except one of convenience, between morals and politics. The laws 
of right are the same for classes and cities as for individual men. 
But one must add that these laws are primarily laws of personal ' 
morality ; politics is founded on ethics, not ethics on politics.]^ The 
primary question raised in the Republic and finally answered at its 
closers a strictly ethical one, What is the rule of right by which a 
maiTbught to regulate his life ? And it should be noted that the 
first simple answer offered to the question, that of Cephalus and 
Polemarchus, makes no reference at all to the TroXts and its vo/xoi, 
and this, no doubt, is why it is put into the mouths of speakers 
who were not Athenian TroXirat but protected aliens. The political 
reference is brought into the dialogue in the first instance by Thrasy- 
machus, who insists on treating morality as a mere product and 
reflex of the habit of obedience to a political XQWCOV or " sovereign." 
Socrates finds it necessary to keep this political reference in view 
throughout his own argument, but he is careful to explain that the 
reason for studying the public life of classes and communities is 
simply that we see the principles of right and wrong " writ large " 
in them ; we study the " larger letters " in order to make out the 
smaller by their aid. All through, the ultimate question is that 
raised by Glaucon and Adimantus, what right and wrong are " in 
the soul of the possessor/' This comes out most clearly of all in 
the part of the work which is written with most palpable passion, 
the accounts of the degenerate types of city and men. Each de- 
fective constitution is studied and the tone of public life fostered by 
it noted, in order that we may learn by this light to read the heart 
of the individual man. We see the real moral flaw in the outwardly 
decent man who regards becoming and remaining " well-off " as 
the finest thing in life, by considering the quality of national life 
in a merchant-city, like Carthage, where the " merchant-prince " 
is dominant and gives the tone to the whole community, and 
so on. The Republic, which opens with an old man's remarks about 
approaching death and apprehension of what may come after death, 
and ends with a myth of judgment, has all through for its central 
theme a question more intimate than that of the best form of 
government or tJMijapst eugenic system of propagation ; its question 
is, How does a flBlttam or forfeit eternal salvation ? For good or 

of the Republic (Twfjja-iga), nothing is said about the philosopher-kings 
and their education^^H>thing, however, is said about the account of the 
" imperfect " types ^^Kien and societies in Republic viii. ix. either. The 
silence of the Tiwa^^Bbout everything which follows Republic v. can be 
explained conjectun^^fc more ways than one. The simplest explanation is 
that the real purpos^^Khe recapitulation is to serve as an introduction to 
the projected but un^^Bd Critias. Any explanation of the facts must remain 
conjectural, since Pl^^Brrote only the opening pages of the projected Critias, 
and we do not know|^J he meant to develop the story. 


bad, it is intensely " other-worldly/' Man has a soul which can 
attain everlasting beatitude, and this beatitude it is the great 
business of life to attain. The social institutions or the education 
which fit him to attain it are the right institutions or education ; 
ail others are wrong. The " philosopher " is the man who has 
found the way which leads to this beatitude. At the same time, 
no man lives to himself, and the man who is advancing to beatitude 
himself is inevitably animated by the spirit of a missionary to the 
community at large. Hence the philosopher cannot be true to 
himself without being a philosopher-king ; he cannot win salvation 
without bringing it down to his society. That is how the Republic 
views the relation between ethics and statesmanship. 

The fundamental issue is raised in the introductory book with 
great artistic skill. From the simple observations of old Cephalus 
about the tranquillity with which a man conscious of no undis- 
charged obligations can look forward to whatever the unseen 
world may have to bring, Socrates takes the opportunity to 
raise the question what SIKOLIOO-VVVJ, taken in the sense of the 
supreme rule of right " morality " as we might say is. What is 
the rule by which a man should order the whole of his life ? Before 
we can embark on the question seriously, we need to be satisfied 
that it is not already answered for us by the ordinary current moral 
maxims of the decent man ; that there really is a problem to be 
solved. Next we have to see that the theories in vogue among 
the superficially " enlightened," which pretend to answer the 
question in a revolutionary way, are hopelessly incoherent. Only 
when we have seen that neither current convention nor current anti- 
conventionalism has any solution of the problem are we in a 
position to raise it and answer it by the true method. Thus there 
are three points of view to be considered: that of the unphilo- 
sophical decent representative of current convention, sustained 
by Cephalus and his son Polemarchus ; that of the " new morality," 
represented by Thrasymachus ; and that of sober philosophical 
thinking, represented by Socrates. 

As to the first point of view, that of decent acquiescence in a 
respectable convention which has never been criticized, we note, 
and this may serve as a corrective to exaggerations about the 
extent to which " the Greeks " identified morality with the VO/KOS 
of a " city," that Plato has deliberately chosen as the exponent 
of moral convention a representative who, as a ^CTOIKOS, naturally 
makes no appeal to the " city " and its usages ; the rule of Cephalus 
is specially characteristic not of a wdAig but of a profession, and 
a profession which in all ages has enjoyed the reputation of sound 
and homely rectitude. The old man's morality is just that which 
is characteristic of the honourable merchant of all places. " Right/] 
according to him, means " giving to every man his own, and speaking 
the truth," i.e. a man is to honour his business obligations and hii 
word is to " be as good as his bond " ; the man who acts thus has 
discharged the whole duty of man. The point of the conversation 


begun between Socrates and Cephalus, and continued with Pole- 
marchus as respondent, is merely that this simple rule for business 
transactions cannot be regarded as a supreme principle of morality 
for two reasons, (i) There are cases where to adhere to the letter 
of it would be felt at once to be a violation of the spirit of right ; 
(2) if you do try to put it into the form of a universal principle by 
explaining that " giving a man his own " means " treating him as 
he deserves/ 1 " giving him his due/ 1 however you understand the 
words " a man's due," you get again a morally bad principle. 1 
Against Polemarchus, who thinks that morality can be reduced to 
" giving every one his due " in the sense of being a thoroughly 
valuable friend to your friends and a dangerous enemy to your foes 
(a working morality expressed in the " gnomic " verses of Solon 
and Theognis), it has to be shown that to make such a principle 
of conduct acceptable to a decent man's conscience, we must at 
least take our " friends " and " foes " to mean " the good " and 
" the bad " respectively, and that, even then, the principle is 
condemned by the fact that it makes it one half of morality to 
" do evil " to some one. The argument equally disposes incidentally 
of the " sophistic " conception of " goodness " as a kind of special 
accomplishment by showing : (i) that in any definite situation 
in life, the " accomplishment " needed to confer the benefit de- 
manded by that situation is some kind of skill other than " good- 
ness " ; and (2) that all these accomplishments can be put to a 
morally bad, as well as to a morally good, use. Virtue, for example, 
will not make a man the best of all advisers about an investment, 
and the knowledge which does make a man a good counsellor on 
such a matter also makes him a very dangerous adviser, if he 
chooses to use it for a fraudulent end. This prepares us to discover 
later on that though " goodness " in the end is knowledge and 
nothing but knowledge, it is something quite different from the 
" arts " or " accomplishments " with which the professional 
" teachers of goodness " confound it. 

When we come to the anti-conventional " immoralism " of the 
" enlightenment/' it is important to remark that Thrasymachus 
is made to overstate the position ; as Glaucon says, at the opening 
of the second book, he has bungled the case. (As we know of no 
reason why Plato should misrepresent a prominent man of the 
preceding generation, the violence and exaggeration is presumably 
a genuine characteristic of the actual Thrasymachus, and it is used 

1 The apparent triviality of the examples chosen by Socrates to illustrate 
his point is only apparent. He takes simple illustrations, as Professor Burnet 
has said, because the issue at stake is most readily seen in such cases. Thus, 
e.g., the question whether one should return a weapon to a lunatic because it is 
his raises the problem whether it is the duty of a banker to honour all the 
cheques of a wealthy senile client, or of a solicitor to take his instructions for 
a manifestly insane will without any warning to his family; and these are 
questions of moment, not only for the casuist but for the legislator. Grotius 
has to begin with precisely the same kind of elementary example when he 
wants to discuss the problems connected with international good faith in the 
De iure belli et pads. 


mainly for humorous effect. Thrasymachus, like modern authors 
whom one could name, must not be taken to mean all he says too 
seriously. Bluster is a mannerism with him, as it is in fact with 
some successful advocates. The serious statement of the im- 
moralist case is reserved for Glaucon.) As Thrasymachus states the 
case, there is really no such thing as moral obligation. What men 
call " right " is " the interest of the superior/' (In this phrase, TO 
KpeiTTov is to be taken as neuter, and what is meant is " the 
sovereign " in a community.) The theory is that right or morality 
is a synonym for conformity to vo/xos (the institutions and traditions 
of the community). But these institutions have been originally 
imposed on the community by the " sovereign " purely with a view 
to his own benefit, and the only reason why they should be respected 
is that the " sovereign " has the power to make you suffer if you 
do not respect them. Hence, unlike Hobbes, Thrasymachus feels 
no need to justify the absolutism of the " sovereign " by appeal to 
the " social contract " by which he has been invested with his 
sovereign powers ; since he does not regard " right " as having any 
meaning, he has not to show that the sovereign has any right to 
obedience ; it is sufficient to observe that his power to enforce 
obedience is guaranteed by the simple fact that he is the sovereign. 
Like the imaginary prehistoric kings and priests of Rousseau or 
Shelley, he has succeeded in imposing his will on the community 
and there is nothing more to be said. In practice this theory 
would work out exactly like that of Callicles in the Gorgias, but 
there is the important difference that, in theory, the two immor- 
alists start from opposite assumptions. Callicles is a partisan of 
<u'cns who honestly believes that in the " order of things " the 
strong man has a genuine right to take full advantage of his strength ; 
Thrasymachus is pushing the opposite view of all morality as mere 
"convention" to an extreme. The evidence for his theory is, 
in the first instance, simply the fact that all governments make 
"high treason," the subversion of the sovereign, the gravest crime. 
The first care of every government is to ensure the constitution, 
whatever it is, against revolution. By pure confusion of thought 
the safeguarding of the constitution is then identified with the 
safeguarding of the private interests of the particular persons who 
happen at any moment to be exercising the function of sovereignty. 
Subsequently an appeal is made to the familiar facts about the 
" seamy side " of political and private life, the unscrupulosity and 
self-seeking of politicians, and the readiness of private men to cheat 
one another and the community, to job for their families and the 
like, when the chance offers. It would be easy to show that the 
indictment is drawn up with careful reference to features of con- 
temporary Athenian life, but the reasoning of Thrasymachus rests 
on the further assumption that the seamy side of life is its only 
side ; life is robbing and being robbed, cheating and being cheated, 
and nothing else. This is, after all, not an impartial picture even of 
a society groaning under the rule of a tyrant or a demagogue, and 


when Socrates comes to reply, he also finds no difficulty in appealing 
to equally " real " facts of a very different kind, e.g. the fact that 
a politician expects to get some sort of remuneration for his work, 
which shows that the work itself is not necessarily a " paying " 
thing. Even in the world as it is, the "strong man's " life is not 
all getting and no giving. 

The fact is that Thrasymachus, like Mr. Shaw or Mr. Chesterton, 
has the journalist's trick of facile exaggeration. He is too good a 
journalist to be an esprit juste, and the consequence is that he lands 
himself in a dilemma. If his " sovereign " who has a view only 
to the interests of " number one " is meant to be an actual person 
or body of persons, it is obvious, as Socrates says, that he is not 
infallible. It is not true that the moral code and the institutions 
of any society are simply adapted to gratify the personal desires of 
the sovereign who, according to Thrasymachus, devises them, or 
to further his interests ; judged by that standard, every existing 
set of vofjioi is full of blunders. 1 But if you assume that the 
sovereign is always alive to his own interests and always embodies 
them in his regulations, your sovereign is a creature of theory, an 
" ideal/ 1 and you lay yourself open at once to the line of argument 
adopted by Socrates to show that his worth depends on fulfilling 
a social function, independently of the question whether he gets 
any private advantage from his position or not. The " new 
morality " of Thrasymachus must therefore stand or fall on its 
own merits as an ethical theory ; it derives no real support from 
his speculations about the origin of government in the strong man's 
" will to power." 

On the argument by which Socrates meets the strictly ethical 
assertion that " conventional " morality is a mere expression of 
the low intelligence and weakness of the " herd," all I wish to 
remark here is that he is guided throughout by the Pythagorean 
analogy between tuned string, healthy body and healthy mind, 
which is the key to half the best thought of the Greek moralists. 
The immoralist's case is really disposed of in principle by the often 
misunderstood argument about 7rA.oveia (Rep. i. 349&~35oc). The 
reasoning already contains in germ the whole doctrine of the 
" right mean " afterwards developed in the Philebus and the Ethics 
of Aristotle. The point is that in all applications of intelligence 
to the conduct of activity of any kind, the supreme wisdom is to 
know just where to stop, and to stop just there and nowhere else. 

1 For example, on Thrasymachus' theory, the Sfjfiot, which is the Kpeirrov 
at Athens, must be supposed to have adopted the institution of ostracism in 
the interests of the dij^os, as a safeguard against would-be " dictators." But 
in actual working the institution favours the aspirant to a dictatorship by- 
giving him a chance to remove the natural leaders of a " constitutional opposi- 
tion." The selection of magistrates by lot, again, must be supposed to have 
been adopted to equalize the chances of the citizens ; but, as its ancient critics 
said, it may work the wrong way, since it gives the fuffddvjpos as good a chance 
of office as anyone else, whereas he would be handicapped under an elective 
system by his known or suspected hostility to the constitution. 


The " wise man," like the musician or the physician, knows what 
the fool or the quack never knows, " how much is enough." The 
mistake common to the fool in the management of life and the 
bungler tuning a musical instrument or treating a sick man, is 
that they believe in the adage that you " can't have too much of a 
good thing." On the strength of this misleading faith, one ruins 
his instrument, another kills his patient, and the third spoils his 
own life. There is a " just right " in all the affairs of life, and to 
go beyond it is to spoil your performance, and consequently to 
miss " happiness." Once grasped, this point leads on to the other 
that the "just right " in any performance means the adequate 
discharge of function, and that happiness, in turn, depends on 
discharge of function. The introduction to the Republic thus leads 
us up to precisely the telcological conception of the rule of conduct 
from which Butler starts in the Preface to his Sermons. " Happi- 
ness " depends on " conformity to our nature as active beings." 
What " active principles " that nature comprises and how they 
are organized into a " system " we learn in the immediately follow- 
ing books. 

With the opening of the second book, we are introduced to the 
genuine version of the immoralist doctrine of which Thrasymachus 
had given a mere exaggeration, the theory that regard for moral 
rules is a pis alter, though one which is unfortunately unavoidable 
by ordinary humanity. The theory is often referred to as that 
of Glaucon and Adimantus, but it should be noted that Adimantus 
takes no part in the statement of the theory and that Glaucon, 
who does explain it fully, is careful to dissociate himself from it ; 
it is given as a speculation widely current in educated circles of the 
time of the Archidamian war and supported by specious though, as 
Glaucon holds, unsound arguments. His own position is simply 
that of an advocate speaking from his brief. He undertakes to 
make an effective defence of the case which Thrasymachus had 
mismanaged, in order that it may really be disproved, not merely 
dismissed without thorough examination of its real merits. The 
important feature of his argument is not so much the well-known 
statement of the " social contract " theory of the origin of moral 
codes as the analysis of existing morality to which the historical 
speculation is meant to lead up. The point is that " men practise 
the rules of right not because they choose, but because they cannot 
help themselves." At heart every one is set simply on gratifying 
his own passions, but you will best succeed in doing this by having 
the fear of your fellow-men before your eyes and abstaining from 
aggression on them. If you get the chance to gratify your passions 
without moral scruples, and can be sure not to be found out and 
made to suffer, you would be a fool not to benefit by your oppor- 
tunity. This is the point of the imaginative fiction about the 
" ring of Gyges." The real fact which gives the sting to the 
fiction is simply that we all know that there is no human virtue 
which would not be deteriorated by confidence of immunity from 


detection. None of us could safely be trusted to come through the 
ordeal with our characters undepraved. We are all prone to lower 
our standard whenjwe believe that there is no eye, human or divine, 
upon us. There <fc.n be little doubt that a theory of this kind, 
which amounts to the view suggested as possible by Kant that 
no single human act has ever been done simply " from duty/' was 
a current one in the age of Socrates, and we can even name one of 
the sources upon which Plato is presumably drawing. The theory 
attempts to combine in one formula the two rival conceptions of 
" nature " and " convention " as regulative of action. It amounts 
to saying that there is a morality of unscrupulous egoism which is 
that of " nature " and is practised by us all when we are safe from 
detection, and another and very different " morality of convention," 
a morality of mutual respect for " claims and counter-claims " 
which we are obliged to conform to, so far as our behaviour is 
exposed to the inspection of our fellows. This doctrine is taught 
in so many words in a long fragment, discovered at Oxyrhynchus, 
of Socrates' contemporary and rival, Antiphon the " sophist." * 
According to Antiphon, the " wise man/' who means to make a 
success of life, will practise " conventional justice " when he believes 
that his conduct will be observed by others, but will fall back on 
" natural justice " whenever he can be sure of not being found out. 
This is exactly the position Glaucon means to urge in his apologue. 
What he wants Socrates to prove is that the conception of the two 
rival moralities is a false one ; that mutual respect of rights is the 
true morality of " nature/' as much as of " convention," the course 
of conduct suitable to ' ' our nature as agents." The proof is supplied 
in the end by the doctrine of the " parts of the soul " in Republic iv., 
exactly as Butler attempts to supply a similar proof of the same 
thesis by his account of the hierarchy of the " active principles " in 
his three Sermons on Human Nature. 

The contribution of Adimantus to the discussion is that he 
places the argument for regarding respect for the rights of one's 
neighbour as a mere cover for self-seeking on a basis independent of 
all speculations about moral origins. The tone of his speech is 
carefully differentiated from that of Glaucon. Glaucon, as he 
himself admits, is simply making the ablest forensic defence he 
can of his case, and can jest about the gusto with which he has 
thrown himself into the cause of a dubious client ; Adimantus 
speaks from the heart in a vein of unmistakable moral indignation. 
He complains not of the speculations of dashing advanced thinkers, 
but of the low grounds on which the defence of morality is based by 
the very parties who might be presumed to have it most at heart. 
Parents who are sincerely anxious that their sons should grow up 
to be honest and honourable men regularly recommend virtue 
simply on the ground of its value as a means to worldly success 
and enjoyment ; they never dwell on the intrinsic worth of virtue 

1 Oxyrhynchus Papyri, XI, no. 1364. 


itself. On the contrary, their habitual insistence on the hardness 
of the path of virtue and the pleasantness of vicious courses suggests 
that they think virtue in itself no true good. And the poets all 
speak the same language. When you come to the representatives 
of religion, who might be expected to take the highest line, you 
find that they are worst of all. They terrify the sinner by their 
stories of judgment to come, but only as a preliminary step to 
assuring him that they will, for a small consideration, make his 
peace with Heaven by easy ritual performances and sacraments 
which involve no change of heart. The whole influence of religion 
and education seems to be thrown into the scale against a genuine 
inward morality, and this is a much more serious matter than the 
speculations of a few clever men about the " original contract " 
and the motives which prompted it. We need a new religion and a 
new educational system. (We must, of course, note that the 
indictment of religion is throughout aimed not at the official cult us 
of the city, but at the Orphic and similar sects ; the vehemence 
with which Adimantus speaks seems to indicate an intense personal 
hostility to these debased " Salvationists " which is presumably a 
real trait of the man's character.) 

The effect of the two speeches, taken in conjunction, is to im- 
pose on Socrates the task of indicating, by a sound analysis of 
human nature, the real foundations of morality in the very constitu- 
tion of man, and of showing how education and religion can be, 
and ought to be, made allies, not enemies, of a sound morality. 
This, we may say, is the simple theme of the whole of the rest of the 
dialogue. Some comments may be offered on the various stages 
of the demonstration. The theme has already been propounded 
in the demand of Glaucon that it shall be made clear how " justice " 
and " injustice " respectively affect the inner life of their possessor, 
independently of any sanctions, human or divine. It is to the 
answer to this question that Socrates is really addressing himself 
in the picture of an ideally good man living in an ideal relation to 
society, which culminates in the description, given in Books VI .-VII., 
of the philosopher-king, his functions in society, and the discipline 
by which he is fitted for their discharge, as well as by the briefer 
studies, in Books VIII. and IX., of increasing degeneration from 
the true type of manhood. The answer to Adimantus, so far as his 
indictment of education is concerned, has to be found in the account 
of the training of the young into worthy moral character by a right 
appeal, through literature and art, to the imagination (BooksIII.-IV .) ; 
his attack on immoral religion may be said to be the direct occasioin 
both of the regulation of early " nursery tales " with which Socrates 
opens his scheme of reform in Book II., and of the magnificent 
myth of judgment with which the dialogue closes, itself a specimen 
of the way in which the religious imagination may be made the most 
potent reinforcement of a noble rule of life. In dealing with the 
details of the positive contributions of the dialogue to both politics 
and religion, it is necessary to observe some caution, if we are to 


avoid specious misunderstandings. We must remember all through 
that the political problem of the right organization of a state is 
avowedly introduced not on its own account, but because we see 
human virtue and vice " writ large " in the conduct of a state or a 
political party, and may thus detect in the community the real 
moral significance of much that would escape our notice if we only 
studied humanity in the individual. 1 Hence we shall probably be 
misunderstanding if we imagine, as has sometimes been imagined, 
that either Socrates or Plato is seriously proposing a detailed new 
constitution for Athens, and still more if we imagine that either 
would have approved of the introduction of the new constitution 
by revolution into a society wholly unprepared to receive it. The 
most we are entitled to say about any of the detailed proposals 
of the Republic is that Plato presents them as what, according to 
Socrates, is most in accord with the moral nature of man, and may 
therefore be expected to be approximately realized in a thoroughly 
sound condition of society. 

(i) In the impressive picture given in Books II.-IV. of the 
working of the principle of specialization of function according 
to vocation, which will ultimately turn out to be the foundation 
of all " justice/' there are one or two points which have perhaps 
not received sufficient attention, and may therefore be briefly noted. 

I think it is clear that we must not take the description of 
the three successive stages through which Socrates' community 
passes as meant to convey any speculation about the beginnings 
of civilization. The " first city " is already on the right side of 
the line which separates civilization from barbarism. Its inhab- 
itants are already agriculturists, permanently cultivating a fixed 
territory ; they are at home in the working of metals, and in some 
respects they exhibit an advance in economic organization on 
the Athens of the Periclean age. (Thus they have their clothes 
made by a distinct class of artisans, not woven in the house by the 
women of the family, as was still largely the custom at Athens.) 
The notion that we are reading a satire on Antisthenes and the 
" return to nature " is merely ludicrous. What is really described 
is, in the main, the condition of a normal 71-0X19 where the citizens 
are farming-folk. To me it seems clear that, so far as Plato has 
any particular historical development before his mind, he is think- 
ing of what Athens itself had been before the period of victory and 
expansion which made her an imperial city and the centre of a 
world-wide sea-borne commerce. (This is suggested almost irre- 
sistibly by the assumption that even the " first city/ 1 like Athens, 
requires to import a good many of its necessaries from elsewhere, 

1 For example, punctuality is what is commonly considered a " minor 
social virtue." A man is not thought much the worse of, if he is always late 
at an appointment. But when we see how the issue of a campaign or even 
of a war may be affected, if expected reinforcements arrive just a little too 
late, we are reminded that it is a dangerous thing to call any virtue a " minor " 
one. The contemplation of the " large letters " teaches us not to despise 
" minute particulars." 


and consequently contains merchants and sailors, and is already 
producing for the foreign market.) In the description of the 
steps by which this little society expands and becomes a city with 
a multitude of artificial wants, and trades which minister to them, 
thus acquiring a " superfluous population " which must somehow 
be provided for, we can hardly see anything but a conscious re- 
flection of the actual expansion of Attica under Cimon and Pericles. 

(2) We must, of course, note that not all the artificial wants 
which arise in the city as it becomes " luxurious " are meant to be 
condemned. Even the demand for delicacies for the table is an 
indication that the standard of living is rising, and all social students 
know that a rise in this standard is by no means an entirely unwhole- 
some thing. It is more significant that one of the chief features 
of the development is the growth of professions like those of the 
actor and the impresario. People are beginning to feel the need of 
amusement, and this means, of course, that they are becoming 
conscious that they have minds, which need to be fed no less than 
their bodies. Presumably the reason why Socrates could not look 
for " justice " in the community of farmers, but has to wait for 
the " luxurious city " to come into existence and be reformed, 
is precisely that the members of the first society would hardly 
be alive to the fact that they have souls at all ; they could not feel 
the need for a daily supply of any bread but that which perishes ; 
they have no " social problem." 

(3) It has been asked why, when over-population leads to an 
acute social problem, aggressive warfare rather than colonization 
should be assumed as the only way out of the difficulty. The 
answer, of course, is simple. In the first place, peaceful coloniza- 
tion of derelict territories had never been a feasible procedure 
for a Greek city. The founders of the ancient and famous cities 
we call the " Greek colonies " had regularly had to wrest their sites 
from previous occupants not much inferior to themselves in " cul- 
ture/ 1 There was no America or Australia in the Mediterranean 
basin. And in the second, Socrates knows his countrymen and 
is well aware that a Greek " surplus population " would not be 
likely to transport itself across the seas in quest of a new home so 
long as there was a fair chance of a successful inroad on its neigh- 
bours. He is, as he says, not discussing the morality of the pro- 
ceeding ; he is merely noting that it is what the city would, in 
fact, do. (In theory, to be sure, it was a commonplace that an 
aggressive war of expansion is not a iustum bellum.) And the point 
he wishes to insist on is the perfectly sound one, that the experience 
of having to make common sacrifices and face common dangers in 
war, just or unjust (but when did any nation throw its soul into 
the prosecution of a war which it seriously believed to be unjust ?), 
does more to generate self-devotion in citizens than any other. War 
gives the social reformer his chance, for the double reason that 
it produces the temper which is willing to live hard, make sacri- 
fices, and submit to discipline, and, when it is hard contested and 


the issue doubtful, it makes the necessity for sacrifice and submission 
pressing and patent. We who have lived through the events of 
1914-1918 should be able to understand this from our own experience. 
(4) It is unhappily customary to make two bad mistakes about 
the nature of the reconstituted social structure which, in Socrates' 
narrative, emerges from the experience provided by a great war. 
It is called a " system of caste," and the matter is then made worse 
by calling the %Aiovpyot' who form the third of Socrates' social 
classes, " the working class," or " the industrial class." The 
immediate consequence is that the social and political theory of the 
Republic suffers a complete travesty, due to the unconscious in- 
fluence of ideas derived from our experience of modern " industrial- 
ism." To guard against misconceptions of this kind, we must, in 
the first place, be clear on the point that there is no system of 
" caste " in the Republic. The characteristic of " caste " is that 
one is born into it, and that once born into a caste it is impossible 
to rise above it. You may forfeit your caste in various ways, as a 
Brahmin does by crossing the seas, but no one can become a 
Brahmin if he is not born one. Now Socrates believes, rightly or 
wrongly, that heredity is a powerful force in the intellectual and 
moral sphere ; as a general rule, a man will find his natural place 
in the " class " to which his parents belong (all the more, no doubt, 
as procreation is to be placed under careful " eugenic " regulations). 
But the rule has its notable exceptions : there are those who prove 
quite unfitted for the work of the class into which they are born, 
and those who show themselves qualified to take their place in a 
higher class. Hence it is part of Socrates' idea that the early life 
of the individual shall be under close and constant surveillance, 
and subjected to repeated tests of character and intelligence. 
There is to be every opportunity for the discovery and degradation 
of the unworthy and the promotion of the worthy; no one is to 
be ensured by the accident of birth in a particular social status, 
and no one is to be excluded by it from rising to the highest 
eminence. This qualification of the principle of heredity by the 
antithetic principle of the " open career " for ability and character 
is absolutely destructive of "caste." The philosopher-kings or the 
soldiers of the Socratic state are no more a " caste " than Napoleon's 
marshals. And, in the second place, the 3i?/uovpyot do not corre- 
spond to what we call the " artisan " or " working " class, i.e. 
to wage-earners or persons who maintain themselves by selling their 
labour. They include our wage-earners, but they also include the 
great bulk of what we should call the civilian population, inde- 
pendently of economic status. The thought underlying the dis- 
tinction of the three classes has primarily nothing to do with 
economic status. It is simply that in any full-grown society, you 
may distinguish three types of social service. There is a small 
section which serves the community directly by directing its public 
life, making rules and regulations and controlling policy. These 
are the " complete " or " full-grown " guardians. There is necessarily 


an executive arm, whose business it is to support the directive 
action of the first class by the necessary physical force against 
enemies from without and malcontents and offenders from within, 
the army and police. It is this body which Socrates calls by the 
name cwiKovpoi, and it should be noted that he selects the word 
not merely for the appropriateness of its literal sense ("helpers," 
" auxiliaries "), but because it was, as we can see e.g. from Herodotus, 
the technical name for the trained professional body-guard of 
monarchs, and therefore indicates the important point that the 
" executive " of the Socratic State is a carefully trained professional 
fighting force, not an amateur constabulary or militia. The 
associations of the word are the same as those of such an English 
expression as " the Guards/' and Socrates does not scruple to apply 
to his 7riKov/3oi the opprobrious name by which such permanent 
professional soldiers were called in Greek democracies, which 
objected on principle to their existence. They are, like the Ionian 
and Carian soldiers of an Amasis, /xto-floW (" mercenaries ")/ 
except for two considerations that they are citizens, not aliens, 
and that the only /xto-flos they get is their " keep." These two 
classes are distinguished by the fact that they are the only direct 
" servants of the public." What remains is the whole bulk of the 
"civilian population/' with the exception of the "guardians" 
every one who does not directly serve the public either as a states- 
man or as a soldier or policeman. Thus the 8^/xtovpyoi include 
not only all the so-called "working class," but the whole body of 
professional men, and the whole class of employers of laboto-. Since 
the two superior classes are expressly forbidden to have a/y kind of 
property, personally or as classes, it follows that the whole " capital " 
of ^ the State is in the hands of the S^/uov/iyoi. A "merchant 
prince," under such a classification, is just as much one of the 
" industrials " as his clerks and office-boys. Much purely perverse 
criticism of the scheme would have been obviated if this simple 
consideration had been duly kept in mind. 

(5) An immediate consequence is that, in spite of all that has 
been said about the " socialism " or " communism " of the Republic, 
there is really neither socialism nor communism to be found in 
the work. The current confusions on the point are probably 
due mainly to the mistaken notion that the emphatic demand of 
Book IV. 2 for the banishment of " wealth " and " penury " from 
society must be the proposal of a communist, or at least of a 
socialist. This assumption is, on the face of it, absurd. The point 
made in Book IV. is simply that a man's character and work in life 
will be spoiled equally by the possession of irresponsible wealth, 
with no adequate social duties attached to it, and by a penury which 
breaks his spirit and forces him to do bad and scamped work in 
order to keep himself alive. A man may be aware of these dangers 
without adopting either the socialist or the communist theory of 
the right economic organization of society. In point of fact, 
1 Rep. iv. 4iga-42oa. Rep. iv. 421^ ff. 


nothing much is said in the book about the economic organization of 
the only class who have any economic function at all, the Sypiovpyot, 
but the implication of what is said is that there are differences of 
wealth among them, and that the " means of production and dis- 
tribution " are individually owned and operated. In Book VIII. 
it is carefully indicated that one of the first signs of the degeneration 
of the ideal State into a " timocracy " is the acquisition of real and 
personal property by the two superior classes (they " appropriate 
lands and houses/' (viii. 5476) ), but nothing is said of the first 
introduction of private property among the 8iy/*iovpyoi, who thus 
must be presumed to have enjoyed it all along. There are other 
more general considerations which point to the same conclusion. 
For one thing, both pure communism and " State monopoly " of the 
means of production are so alien to the system of a Greek Ti-oXts 
the " State ownership " of the silver mines at Laurium was an 
exception at Athens that Socrates could not be presumed to be 
contemplating either, unless he expressly explained himself. For 
another, it is clear that agriculture is the assumed economic founda- 
tion of the life of his city, and agriculture is just the pursuit to 
which a " socialistic " economic system is least easy of application. 
Collectivism is historically an ideal of the " proletariat " of great 
towns ; the farmer has always been tenacious of the very different 
ideal of peasant ownership. And it is noticeable that in the Laws 
Plato declares himself for peasant ownership in its extreme form. 
The citizens there not merely own their " holdings " but own them 
as their inalienable patrimonies, and " common cultivation " is 
expressly forbidden (v. 7400-6). We may fairly take it that if he 
had intended to represent his master as advocating views of a 
radically different type, he would have made the point unmistakable. 
Hence, it seems to me that we must recognize that the economic 
organization of the ideal city of the Republic is definitely " indi- 
vidualistic." Yet we must not suppose that Plato is in any sense 
putting Socrates forward as a conscious " anti-socialist." The 
real object of the one restriction of ownership on which the dialogue 
insists as fundamental, the prohibition of all property to the direct 
servants of the State, is not economic. The purpose is the same as 
that of the still more emphatic prohibition of family life, the elimina- 
tion of the conflict between public duty and personal interest. 
What Socrates wants, as Bosanquet has said, is simply to divorce 
political power from financial influence. Wealth is to have no 
political influence in his society ; it is " plutocracy," not individual 
ownership, which he is determined to suppress. His rulers are much 
more in the position of a mediaeval military monastic order than in 
that of a collectivist bureaucracy. 

(6) It may not be unnecessary to remark that, as there is no 
socialism, there is also no " community of women " in the Republic. 
If the reader will take the trouble to work out the consequences of 
the regulations prescribed for the mating of the guardians, he will 
find that the impulses of sex and the family affections connected with 


them are subjected to much severer restraint than any which has 
ever been adopted by a Christian society. It is plain that the 
governing classes, to whom the regulations are meant to apply, 
are expected to find no gratification for the sexual impulses except 
on the solemn occasions when they are called on to beget offspring 
for the State. The extension of the duties of the " guardian " 
to both sexes of itself carries the consequence that these occasions 
arise only at long intervals ; and the self-denial implied in the 
acceptance of such a rule of life might prove to be even severer 
than that imposed on the monk by his vow of chastity, for the very 
reason that the inhibition has to be broken through at the time 
when the State so commands. Indeed, the overwhelming probability 
is that if any society should attempt to enforce on any part of itself 
regulations of the kind proposed in the Republic, the attempt would 
faU just because of their intolerable severity. No actual ruling 
class would be likely to consent to the absolute elimination of the 
affections of the family circle from its own life, even if it were 
prepared to reduce the gratification of the physical impulses of 
sex to the contemplated minimum. The true criticism on the 
whole treatment of sex in the Republic is that, like all non-Christian 
moralists, rigourist or relaxed, Socrates very much wn^estimates 
the significance of sex for the whole of the spiritual life. Whatever 
we may think on this point, it is important to remember that at 
any rate the general principles which underlie the treatment of 
the position of women in Republic v. are no personal " development " 
of Plato's ; they belong to the actual Socrates. Aeschines, in the 
remains of his Aspasia, agrees with Plato in representing the philo- 
sopher as insisting that " the goodness of a woman is the same as that 
of a man," and illustrating the thesis by the political abilities of 
Aspasia and the military achievements of the Persian " Amazon " 
Rhodogyne. 1 Hence the thought that the duties of statesmanship 
and warfare should be extended to women must be regarded as 
strictly Socratic, and the rest of the proposals of Republic v. are no 
more than necessary consequences of this position. If they are to be 
rejected, we must refute the assumption on which they are based, 
that the distinction of sex is one which only affects the individual in 
respect to the part to be played in contributing to procreation and 
the rearing of a new generation ; we must be prepared to hold that the 
difference goes deeper and modifies the whole spiritual life profoundly. 
(7) There arc one or two remarks which may be made about 
the plan of moral and religious training laid down in Books II. and 
III., as supplementary to the many excellent studies of this part 
of the dialogue already in existence. We note that in the proposed 
purification of the stories by which religious impressions are to be 
communicated to the very young, it is not merely, nor even mainly, 
the Homeric mythology to which exception is taken, ' The crowning 
offenders are Hesiod and the other theogonists who have related 

1 See the fragments of the Aspasia collated in H. Dittmar's Aeschinct 
von Sphettos. 275-283. 


stories of the violent subversion of older dynasties of gods by 
younger. This would, of course, include the Orphicists ; Socrates 
has not forgotten that it was they against whom the denunciation 
of Adimantus had been more specially directed. It is even more 
instructive to observe that the attack on tragedy as propagating 
false religious conceptions is directly aimed at Aeschylus, who has 
often been mistaken in modern times for an exponent of the religion 
of simple-minded Athenians. This means two things. It means 
that to the Periclean age, even as late as the time of the peace of 
Nicias, Aeschylus was still the great representative of tragedy, in 
spite of the popularity and renown of Sophocles, who was clearly 
thought of, as he is thought of in Aristophanes' Frogs, as a follower, 
though a worthy follower, of the great originator of tragedy. If 
Sophocles had in his own day already been recognized as " the 
mellow glory of the Attic stage," it would be a mystery why nothing 
is said of the very unsatisfactory part played by the gods in such a 
work as the King Oedipus. It also means that Socrates is alive 
to the fact that Aeschylus is no old-fashioned, simple-minded 
worshipper of Apollo of Delphi, or the Olympians generally. In 
fact, a " blasphemy " against Apollo is precisely one of the counts 
brought against him. If it is " atheism " to represent the Olympians 
as practising a questionable morality, Aeschylus, in spite of Dr. 
Verrall, is just as much an " atheist " as Euripides, and Socrates 
rightly makes the point. 1 

(8) Most of the specific criticisms contained in the discussion 
of the educational employment of poetry and music are, naturally 
enough, negative. Socrates clearly holds quite strongly that the 
tendency of the art 61 his own time is to a love of a relaxed and 
formless complexity and variety for its own sake, and he thinks 
it necessary, in the interests of character, as well as of taste, to 
revert to~austerer and more cr classical " standards. It is important 
to remember that these strictures are put into tHe mouth of Socrates, 
speaking not later than the peace of Nicias. 

We must not, then, suppose that they are aimed at epigoni 
of a later generation. It is not the floridity of Timotheus or 
Agathon which is the object of attack, but the art of the Periclean 
age. We are only throwing dust in our own eyes if we suppose 
that Socrates wants merely to repress the cheap music-hall and the 
garish melodrama, or the equivalents of freak movements like 
Dada. He is seriously proposing to censure just what we consider 
the imperishable contributions of Athens to the art and literature 
of the world, because he holds that they have tendencies which are 

1 It would be singularly unlikely that Aeschylus, who had fought at 
Marathon, should feel any particular devotion to a god who had " medized " 
all through the Persian wars. That he felt none is surely proved by the part 
Apollo is made to play all through the Orestean trilogy. The so-called naivete 
of Aeschylus, like that of Herodotus, is a product of consummate art. In 
one important passage where the poet really is expressing personal religious 
conviction he is at pains to tell us that " popular orthodoxy " is against him 
(A gam. 757, 


unfavourable to the highest development of moral personality. 
The magnitude of the sacrifice is the true measure of the value 
he ascribes to the end for which he purposes to make it. We shall 
not appreciate his position^ unless we understand quite clearly 
_that^ he is in downright earnest with. .the consideration that_the 
connexion between aesthetic _ taste and morality is so close .th^t 
whatever tends to > ennoble .our aesthetic taste directly tends .to 
elevate our character^ and whatever tends to foster a " taste L " for 
tKeHebasedln Tart fends equally to deprave a man's whole moral 
DeifigT" Whether we share this conviction or not, the recognition 
tharSocrates holds it with as little qualification as Ruskin is the 
key to the understanding of the whole discussion of early education. 
We are allowed also to see incidentally that the suggested reforms 
in " musical " education are not meant to be limited to the censure 
of what is debased. It is meant that the young " guardian " is to 
be subjected from the first to the positive influences of lofty art of 
every description. (Painting, embroidery, architecture, and certain 
" minor arts " one naturally thinks of the characteristic Athenian 
art of pottery as an example are expressly specified, Republic iii. 
40 la ff.) The growing boy or girl is to live in an environment of 
beauty, and the appreciation of the beauty of the environment 
is expected to lead insensibly to appreciation of whatever is morally 
lovely and of good report in conduct and character. To Socrates 1 
mind the moral employment of such epithets as " fair/' " foul/' 
" graceful," " graceless," is no mere metaphor, but a genuine 
analogy based on the fact that all sensible beauty is itself the ex- 
pression and shadow of an inward beauty of character. 1 

(9) Since the whole of the early education contemplated in the 
Republic is based on an appeal to taste and imagination, it follows 
that, as Socrates is careful to insist, the " goodness " it produces, 
though it will be quite sufficient for every class except the statesmen, 
is not the true and philosophic goodness of which the Phaedo speaks. 
As we are carefully reminded, the self-devotion of even the fighting 
force of the reformed city is founded on " opinion," not on know- 
ledge ; their virtue is absolute loyalty to a sound tradition which 
they have imbibed from their " social environment," not loyalty to 
the claims of a summum bonum grasped by personal insight. Thus 
the virtue described and analysed in Book IV. is still " popular 
virtue " ; its superiority over the goodness of the average Athenian, 
the respectability we have heard Protagoras preaching, is due simply 
to the superiority of the " social tradition " of the Socratic city 
over that of Periclean democracy. There is thus a double reason 

1 Besides painting, embroidery, and architecture, the Republic (I.e.) men- 
tions weaving, the manufacture of all " vessels " or " furniture " ((r/cevwp), and 
appears to allude to gardening. There would be plenty of room in Socrates' 
city for the arts of design, if there is not much left for the poet and dramatist. 
It is an interesting question whether Socrates may not be right in what is his 
evident conviction that the greatest art does require a certain austerity and 
severe restriction in the matter of its vehicles of expression. I suggest the 
question without wishing to answer it. 


why we are bound to regard the picture of philosophers and their 
philosophic virtue drawn in the central books as an essential part of 
the argument, and to reject any speculations which treat this part 
of the Republic as an afterthought. The account of that supreme 
goodness which is indistinguishable from knowledge is absolutely 
necessary in any presentation of Socratic ethics. And again, since 
the statesmen of the Republic have to control and conserve the 
national traditions, they must have a goodness which is not simply 
the product of those conditions themselves. There would be no 
point in subjecting the good soldier to the control of a higher 
authority if the loyalty to established tradition which is the 
soldier's point of honour were the highest moral principle attainable. 
In a Republic without the central books, Sparta would have to 
figure not as an example of the second-best, but as the ideal com- 
munity itself, whereas the whole point of the description of the 
" timocracy " in Book VIII. is that a State like Sparta, where the 
qualities of the mere soldier and sportsman are regarded as a moral 
ideal, has taken the first fatal step towards complete moral anarchy 
and, in the ordinary course of things, must be expected to take those 
which follow in due succession. 

Recognition that the whole account of the virtues given in Re- 
public iv. is thus provisional should save us from attaching too much 
importance to the famous doctrine of the " three parts " of the soul. 
We must be careful to understand that this doctrine does not profess 
to be original nor to be a piece of scientific psychology. We have 
already found it presupposed as something known in educated 
circles in the Gorgias and Phaedo, and have seen reason to think 
that it is Pythagorean in origin, as Posidonius is known to have 
maintained, 1 and directly connected with the theory of the " three 
lives." This means that we are to take it primarily as a working 
account of "active principles/' or " springs of action," which suffi- 
ciently describes the leading types of " goodness/' as goodness can 
be exhibited in any form short of the highest. The scheme will 
thus be excellently applicable to the goodness of the eirucovpot, 
for ^their life is still a form, though the worthiest form, of the 
<iAoT(/zos /?t'os. Loyalty to " honour/' " chivalry," " ambition " 
(though a wholly unselfish ambition), is the utmost we demand of 
them ; the life of duty remains for the best of them a struggle 
between a " higher " and a " lower," though a struggle in which 
the " higher " regularly wins, and this justifies our recognition of a 
plurality of " parts of the soul " in them. It will be characteristic 
of their experience that there should be conflicts of " desire " with 
the tradition of loyalty, and that chivalrous sentiment should be 
required to act as the reinforcement of loyalty to tradition in the 
conflict. But the familiar Socratic doctrine is that the " philo- 
sopher " who has directly gazed for himself on that supreme good 
of which the Symposium has told us, necessarily desires the good 
he has beheld ; to him " disobedience to the heavenly vision " 
1 Buruet, Early Greek Philosophy*, 296 n. 2, 


would be impossible, exactly as in Christian theology sinful volition 
is held to be impossible to the saints who actually enjoy the beatific 
vision of God. Hence it must follow that, as a description of the 
moral life of the philosopher, the doctrine of the distinct " parts " 
of the soul becomes increasingly impossible as he makes progress 
towards the goal at which his activity is consciously directed. This 
is why the last word of Socrates on the doctrine is to remind us 
that it may be necessary to revise it when we have grasped the 
truth of the " divinity " of the soul (Rep. x. 6nb ff.), and why we 
are told, when it is first introduced, that we must not expect to 
arrive at exact and certain truth by the line of inquiry we are now 
pursuing (iv. 435^). 1 I do not think it needful to say more about 
the doctrine here, than to utter a word of warning against two 
possible misunderstandings. We must avoid every temptation to 
find a parallel between the " parts " or " figures " in the soul and 
the modern doctrine of the " three aspects " of a complete " mental 
process" (cognition, conation, feeling). Plato is not talking about 
" aspects " of this kind, but about rival springs of action, and the 
doctrine, as presented in the Republic, has no reference to anything 
but action and " active principles/' or " determining motives." 
Also we must not make the blunder of trying to identify the 
0vju,oei8s with " will." From the Socratic point of view, will 
cannot be distinguished from the judgment " this is good," and this 
judgment is always, of course, a deliverance of the Xoyio-TLKov. But 
the XayurriKov may pronounce a true judgment, or it may be led 
into a false one under the influence of present appetite or of anger 
or ambition, or again, it may only be saved from false judgment 
because the " sense of honour " comes into collision with the 
promptings of appetite. To look in the scheme of the Republic 
for some facultas electiva, intervening between the formation of a 
judgment of " practical thinking " and the ensuing action, would 
be to misunderstand its whole character. 

(10) We see then why there can never have been a " first 
Republic/' including the " guardians " and the scheme for their 
early education, but without the philosopher-king and his training 
in hard scientific thinking. The philosopher-king is doubly de- 
manded as the only adequate embodiment of the Socratic con- 
ception of goodness, and also as the authority whose personal 
insight into good creates the public tradition by which the rest of 
society is to live. To do full justice to the conception we must 
not forget that Socrates' statesmen are expected to combine two 

1 The suggestion is that in the man who achieves his eternal salvation, the 
elements of " mettle " and " concupiscence " are, BO to say, transubstan- 
tiated, swallowed up in intellect. (Of course this " intellect " would not be 
a " cold, neutral " apprehension of truth, but an intellect on fire with intel- 
lectual " passion," a white-hot intelligence.) The same suggestion is made 
more openly in the Timaeus (6gc ff.). Since we cannot suppose the Pythag- 
orean Timaeus to have learned about the "tripartite soul " for the first time 
from the conversation of Socrates two days before, the fact that he makes a 
point of the doctrine indicates that Plato regards it as Pythagorean. 


characters which are not often united. They are to be original 
scientific thinkers of the first order, but equally, they are to be 
" saints." In the account of the character which will be demanded 
of them and the natural endowments it presupposes, we hear, 
indeed, of the qualifications we also should demand of a scientific 
genius intellectual quickness, retentive memory and the like but 
we hear as much, if not more, of what we should regard as moral 
qualifications for sainthood, which may be wanting to a man without 
impairing his eminence in science. How serious Socrates is with 
this side of the matter is shown by the fact that his philosophers 
are to be selected exclusively from the best specimens of young 
people who have come out pre-eminently successful from the hard 
discipline by which the fighting-force is made. The " auxiliary " 
himself, as described in the earlier books, is expected to have all the 
moral elevation of Wordsworth's " Happy Warrior/' and the 
" Happy Warrior " is, in turn, only the raw material out of which 
years of hard intellectual labour will make the philosophic states- 
man. If we lose sight of either half of this ideal we shall form a 
sadly defective notion of what the Republic means by a " philo- 
sopher." By thinking only of the sainthood, we might come to 
imagine that the philosopher is a kind of Yogi, bent on a selfish 
absorption into the divine calm of the Absolute ; it would then be a 
mystery why he is to be trained for his vocation by years of severe 
mathematical study, and again why, when he has at last descried 
the vision of the good, he should at once be made to devote all his 
powers, throughout the prime of his life, to the work of government. 
If we think only of the science, and say merely that what is aimed 
at is that the highest intellectual attainments shall be employed 
in the business of governing the world, we shall be forgetting that 
many of the most eminent men of science would have been dis- 
qualified for the supreme position in Socrates' city by defects of 
character. From the point of view of intellectual eminence we 
could think, perhaps, of no names so illustrious as those of Galileo 
and Newton. But it may be taken as certain that both would, 
by the Socratic standard, be relegated to the class of Si?/uovpy<u. 
The moral cheapne^ of the one man's character, the vein of small 
egotism in the other's, would debar them from being so much as 
ImKovpoi. What we need to understand clearly is that Socrates 
holds firmly to two positions at once the position that only a moral 
hero or saint is fit to be a supreme ruler of men, and the further 
position that discipline in sheer hard thinking, which can only be 
won by personal service of science, is the immediate and indis- 
pensable path to the direct vision of good which makes the saint 
or hero. We are clearly here on Pythagorean ground. The under- 
lying thought is just that which seems to have been distinctive 
of Pythagoras, the thought that " salvation " or " purification " 
of the soul is to be achieved by science (paO-jnaTa), not by a 
ritual of ceremonial holiness ; the philosopher-kings embody the 
same ideal which had inspired the Pythagorean communities when 


they set to work to capture the government of the cities of Magna 
Graecia. There is no reason to doubt that the actual Socrates, 
whose standing complaint against Athenian democracy in the 
dialogues is that it has no respect, in matters of right and wrong, 
for the authority of the " man who knows, 1 ' shared these ideas. 
They are avowed by Plato himself in his correspondence, where 
they figure as the true explanation of his apparently Quixotic 
attempt to make Dionysius II into a possible constitutional 
monarch by an education in mathematics. No doubt Plato and 
his friends were expecting from science something more than it has 
to give, but, as Professor Burnet has said, their proceedings are 
unintelligible unless we understand that the expectation was 
passionately sincere. 

How preoccupation with science was expected to ennoble 
character (provided that only the right type of person is allowed 
to meddle with it), we see most readily by comparing the courage 
pronounced in Book IV. to be all that is wanted of the IviKovpot 
with the still higher type of courage declared in Book VI. to be 
part of the character of the philosopher. The " courage " de- 
manded of the good soldier, in whose make-up Ov^s plays the 
leading part, was defined as steadfast loyalty in the face of perils 
and seductions to the right opinions inculcated in him by education. 
Its foundation is thus allegiance to a code of honour held with such 
passion that no fear of pain or death and no bait that can be offered 
to cupidity is able to overcome it. Clearly a courage like this 
will carry a man " over the top/ 1 make him volunteer for a desperate 
enterprise, or win him a V.C. But there are situations in life which 
make a demand for a still higher degree of fortitude. It is matter 
of experience that a V.C. may not be equal to the task of duty 
imposed, for example, on a priest whose business it is to tend daily 
the last hours of the victims of some foul pestilence in a plague- 
smitten city. Or again a brave soldier, who will face deadly peril 
when his " blood is up " and the eyes of his comrades and his 
commander are on him, may not have the nerve of the scientific 
man who will quietly inoculate himself with some loathsome dis- 
order to study its symptoms, or try the effects of some new and 
powerful anaesthetic upon himself, in order to decide on its possible 
utility in medicine. This is the sort of courage of which Socrates 
speaks as only possible to a man who " knows " the relative in- 
significance of the duration of any individual personal life from his 
habitual " contemplation of all time and all existence." We should, 
probably, prefer, both in the case of the priest and in the case of 
the man of science, to speak of " faith," but the point is that, in 
both cases, the agent is inspired by an absolutely assured personal 
conviction about the universal order and his own place in it. With- 
out this absolute assurance of conviction, one is never wholly free 
from liability to illusion about one's own personal importance, 
and so never quite a free man. Because Socrates holds that the 
sciences form a ladder which leads up in the end to the vision of the 


" Good " as the clue to the whole scheme of existence, he looks to 
science, as its supreme service, to make us thus at last completely 
free men. From this point of view, clearly in the soul of the man 

who " knows/' the " parts " (fwpia) or " figures " (ci&y) which 
have been distinguishable at a lower level of moral development 
will be finally fused. His life will have only one spring of action 
or active principle, his vision of the supreme good itself. The forms 
of virtue, at its highest level, will therefore lose their distinction. 
It might be possible for the average good civilian, or even for the 
good soldier of the State, to be characterized by one form of good- 
ness more than by another. This is what is meant by the assign- 
ment of different virtues as characteristic to different sections of the 
community. It is not meant that so long as the shop-keeper or 
the fanner is " temperate/' it does not matter whether he is a 
coward. He could not be a good man at all, if he were that, and 
a society in which no one had any courage except the members of 
the army and police would be morally in a bad way. But fighting 
is not the civilian's trade. He will be none the less a valuable 
member of society as a shop-keeper or a farmer because he has not 
been trained to show all the pluck and presence of mind which 
would win a D.S.O. or a V.C., though the State would succumb 
in the hour of peril if its fighting-arm had no more martial courage 
than the average civilian. But if a man is inspired in all the acts 
of his life by the vision of the supreme good, he will be equal to all 
the emergencies of life alike ; in having one virtue, he will neces- 
sarily have all. Substitute for " the good " God, and the principle 
of the unity of the virtues takes on the familiar form Ama et fac 
quod vis. 

(n) The conception of science as the road to vision of the good 
leads us at once to consideration of the central metaphysical doctrine 
of the Republic, the doctrine of the " Form of Good " (tSc'a rayaOov). 
As is usual when the forms are mentioned in a Platonic dialogue, 
their reality is neither explained nor proved. It is taken for granted 
that the company in the house of Polemarchus, or at least Glaucon 
and Adimantus who conduct the discussion with Socrates, know 
quite well what the theory means and will not dispute its truth. 
It is assumed also as known to every one that the mathematical 
sciences are concerned with forms ; forms are the objects which 
we get to know from mathematics, though the mathematician 
leads us up to acquaintance with them by starting from the sensible 
" figures " which he employs as helps to our imagination. So far, 
we are told nothing we have not learned from the Phaedo. But 
there are two points of the first importance on which the Republic 
adds to that dialogue, (a) We now hear of a certain supreme 
" form," the " Good " or " Form of Good/' which is the supreme 
object of the philosopher's study. We learn that, over and beyond 
the recognized mathematical studies, there is a still more ultimate 
discipline, "dialectic," and that it is the function of " dialectic " 
to lead directly to this vision of the " good." Further, we are told 


that this " good " is something Socrates cannot describe ; It is not 
" reality or being/' but " on the other side " of both, though it is 
the source of all the reality (aXrjOeia) and being (ouo-i'a) of every- 
thing, (b) The procedure of the mathematical sciences is criticized 
and contrasted with that of " dialectic/' with a view to explaining 
just why the ideal of science is realized in dialectic and in dialectic 
alone. Both points call for some special consideration. 

(a) THE FORMS (IMai) IN THE REPUBLIC. From the Phaedo, 
among other dialogues, we gather that there is a form corresponding 
to each " universal " predicate which can be significantly affirmed 
of a variety of logical subjects. The same thing is explicitly said 
in the Republic (vi. 5076, x. 5960) ; in the latter place the " form 
of bed (K\ivrj) or table " (rpaTrcfa) is given as an example. (This 
seems at variance with the well-known statement of Aristotle 
that " we "i.e. the Platonists deny that there are " forms " of 
artificial things, 1 but we must remember that Aristotle is speaking 
of the doctrine as elaborated in the Academy, not of the position 
ascribed to Socrates in the dialogues.) But in the Republic we 
learn that there is a " Form of Good " which is to the objects of 
knowledge and to knowing itself what the sun is to visible objects 
and to sight. This is then further explained by saying that the 
sun both makes the colours we see and supplies the eye with the 
source of all its seeing. In the same way, the " good " supplies 
the objects of scientific knowledge with their being (ouo-t'a) and 
renders them knowable. And as the sun is neither the colours 
we see nor the eye which sees them, so the " good " is something 
even more exalted than " being." 2 Later on, we find that the 
sciences form a hierarchy which has its culmination in the actual 
apprehension of this transcendent " good." 3 Now, since it is 
assumed in the Republic that scientific knowledge is knowledge of 
forms, the objects which are thus said to derive their being from 
" the good " must clearly mean the whole body of the forms. 
The " good " thus holds a pre-eminence among forms, and strictly 
speaking, it might be doubtful whether we ought to call it a " form " 
any more than we can call the sun a colour. At least, all the other 
forms must be manifestations or expressions of it. In the Phaedo 
nothing was said which would warrant this treatment of the forms 
as a hierarchy or ordered series with a first member of such a unique 

1 Metaphysics, A. 9916 6, M. io8oa 6. 

2 Rep. vi. 5086-5096. For the full understanding of the analogy with the 
sun it is necessary to understand the theory of colour-vision implied which is 
fully expounded in the Timaeus. A colour is itself a kind of " flame " 
(Timaeus, 670 ff.), and the immediate organ of the sight by which it is appre- 
hended is also itself a fire, like that of the sun, which is contained in the eye 
and issues forth from it in the act of vision (ibid. 456 ft.). Thus the sun, as the 
source of light, actually is also the source both of colour and of colour- vision. 
The well-known Neoplatonist formula that vovs and rA vorjrd taken together 
as inseparable proceed immediately from the supreme reality " the One " is 
a perfectly correct transcript of the doctrine of the Republic into the termin- 
ology of technical metaphysics. 

* Rep. vii. 


character ; they appeared rather to be a vast plurality of which 
all the members stand on the same footing. Hence it is intelligible 
that the view should have been taken that the " good " of the Re~ 
public represents a Platonic development going far beyond anything 
we can attribute to Socrates himself. I think, however, that we 
must be careful not to exaggerate on this point. There can, at 
least, be no doubt that the " form of good " is identical with the 
supreme Beauty, the vision of which is represented in the Symposium 
as the goal of the pilgrimage of the philosophic lover. Hence, 
though it is true that the name " form of good " occurs nowhere 
but in the central section of the Republic, it would not be true to 
say that the object named does not appear in the Symposium with 
much the same character. Again, though the Phaedo does not 
name the " form of good," the phrase ctfios rayaOov is verbally no 
more than a periphrase for TO ayaOov (" the good"), just as similar 
periphrases occur constantly with the words <vVi9, Suva/us, in Plato. 1 
And it is in the Phaedo itself that we are told of Socrates 1 conviction 
that the ayaQov KCU Se'ov (the " good and the ought ") is the principle 
which " holds everything together," and thus the cause of all order 
in the universe. 2 The statements of the Republic merely make the 
implications of this passage of the Phaedo a little more explicit. 
If the good is the universal cause, it obviously must have just the 
character the Republic ascribes to it. Hence Professor Burnet 
seems to be right in holding that what is said of the " form of 
good " is strictly within the limits of Socratism, and that this 
explains the point of contact between Socrates and an Eleatic 
like Euclides of Megara. 3 That Socrates finds himself unable to 
speak of this form of good except negatively, and that he can only 
characterize it positively by an imperfect analogy, is inevitable from 
the nature of the case. The same thing may be seen in any philo- 
sophy which does not simply deny or ignore the " Absolute " or 
supreme source of all reality. Because this source is ex hypothesi 
a source of all reality, you are bound to insist that it transcends, 
and is thus " wholly other " than, every particular real thing ; 
every predicate you affirm of it belongs properly to some of its 
effects in contradistinction from others and can therefore only be 
asserted of the supreme source " analogically " and with the 
warning that the analogy is imperfect and would mislead if pressed 
unduly. At the same time, because it is the source of all reality, 
every predicate which expresses a " positive perfection " must, in 
its degree, characterize the source of all " perfections " and must 
be ascribed to it " analogically." All we gain by knowledge of the 
" detail " of the universe must add to and enrich our conception 

1 To take the first examples which come to hand : Phaedo, gSa 2, a/rJas AXXo 

s = another cause ; Phaedrus, 246^ 6, ^ irrepov 5iW/us = " a wing " ; Timaeus, 

8, rty rov tru^iaros 0i5a(v=sthe body. 

8 The physicists are accused (Phaed. ggc 5) of falsely thinking that rb &ya,0bv 
Koi Se'ov auvSei /cal otWx ouScV. As one might say, " they forget that obliga- 
tion is the ligature " which connects all things. 

* Greek Philosophy, Part I., 168-170. 


of the source of reality, and yet we can never " comprehend " or 
completely " rationalize " that source. It remains, when all is 
said, an unexhausted and surprising " mystery." Hence the 
necessity Christian theology has always felt itself under of incor- 
porating the profound agnosticism of the "negative way/' or 
" way of remotion," in itself and the grotesque aberrations into 
which it has always fallen in the hands of second-rate theologians 
who have attempted to know God as one may know the " general 
conic." Hence also the tension between the affirmative and the 
negative moments in a metaphysic like that of Mr. Bradley. Hence 
equally the inevitable failure of " positive science " to complete 
its task of explaining everything. To explain everything would 
mean to get completely rid of all elements of " bare fact/' to deduce 
the whole detail of existence from a body of " laws/' perhaps from 
a single " law," in themselves (or itself) " evident to the intellect," 
as Descartes tried to deduce physics from geometry, because 
geometry appeared to him to involve no postulates which are not 
immediately " evident " as true. In fact, we only " rationalize " 
nature, in the sense of eliminating " bare fact " for which no ex- 
planation is forthcoming, at one point by reintroducing it somewhere 
else, as M. Meyerson has insisted in his series of illuminating works 
on the philosophy of the sciences. And it is just because science 
is under this restriction that its interest is perennial ; if we could 
ever expect to " complete " it, we should have to anticipate a 
time when it would no longer interest us. Science is eternally 
progressive just because it is always tentative. 1 

The language used in the Republic of the " Form of Good," as 
the last paragraph has suggested, at once raises the question whether 
or not this form can be identified with God, of whom language of 
the same kind is used by Christian theologians and philosophers. 
We cannot answer this important question correctly except by 
making a distinctio sometimes forgotten. If the question means 
" is the Form of Good another name for the God recognized in the 
Platonic philosophy ? " the answer must be definitely No, for the 
reason given by Burnet, that the good is a form, whereas God is 
not a form but a " soul," the supremely good soul. When we 
come to deal with the Laws, we shall see the importance for Plato's 
own thought of this distinction. It is just because his God is not 
a form that God can play the part the Platonic philosophy assigns 
to Him. But if we mean " is the Good spoken of in the Republic 
identical with what Christian divines and philosophers have meant 

1 The last word on the question whether the philosophy of the Republic 
and the dialogues generally is " rationalism " or not is briefly this. If we 
could fully comprehend " the good " we should see directly that it is through 
and through intelligible, and the only object which is wholly and perfectly 
intelligible ; as we never can comprehend it completely, there is, in fact, 
always something mysterious, not yet understood, about it. It is free from 
all self-contradiction, but it always contains " surprises " for us. We can 
" see into it " to some extent, and it is the philosopher's duty to see further 
and further into it ; but you will never " see through it." 


by God ? " the answer must be modified. In one most important 
respect it is. The distinguishing characteristic of the " Form of 
Good " is that it is the transcendent source of all the reality and 
intelligibility of everything other than itself. Thus it is exactly 
what is meant in Christian philosophy by the ens realissimum, and 
is rightly regarded as distinct from and transcendent of the whole 
system of its effects or manifestations. And, as in the ens 
realissimum of Christian philosophers, so in the " Form of Good " 
the distinction, valid everywhere else, between essentia and esse, 
So-Sein and Sein, falls away. In other language, it transcends 
the distinction, too often treated as absolute, between value and 
existence. It is the supreme value and the source of all other 
value, and at the same time it is, though " beyond being," the 
source of all existence. This explains why, when a man at last 
comes in sight of it at the culmination of his studies in " dialectic," 
it is supposed to be grasped by direct vision, and for that reason is 
strictly " ineffable." Neither Plato nor anyone else could tell 
another man what the good is, because it can only be apprehended 
by the most incommunicable and intimate personal insight. Thus, 
as it seems to me, metaphysically the Form of Good is what Christian 
philosophy has meant by God, and nothing else. From the Christian 
standpoint, the one comment which would suggest itself is that 
since, on Socrates 1 own showing, the distinction between essence 
and existence falls away in the good, it should not properly be 
called one of the forms at all, and hence Socrates and Plato are not 
fully alive to the significance of their own thought when they speak 
of a " God " who is a \l/vxy and thus on a lower level of " reality " 
than the good. Their form of theism is only necessitated because, 
in fact though not in words, they are still haunted by a feeling 
that the good is, after all, a " value " or an essentia, and needs 
some intermediate link to connect it up with the hierarchy of 
" realities " or " existents." On this point the last word of Greek 
constructive thought was said not by Plato but by Plotinus and 
Proclus. (Of course, also, we must remember that a specifically 
Christian philosophy is determined in its attitude towards the 
theistic problem by the fact that Christianity is an historical re- 
ligion. It starts with the fact of the " Word made flesh/ 1 itself a 
coalescence of existence and value, and to preserve its Christian 
character, it is bound to be true to that starting-point in its whole 
metaphysical construction.) 

(6) THE CRITICISM OF THE SCIENCES. In studying the criticism 
Socrates passes upon the sciences and his theory about their limi- 
tations, we must not be misled by t'he fact that he deals throughout 
only with the various branches of mathematics as recognized in 
the fifth century. This was inevitable because he had before him 
no other examples of systematic and organized knowledge. In 
principle what he has to say is readily applicable to the whole 
great body of more " concrete " sciences which has grown up since 
his own day. If we speak of his comments as a criticism on the 


mathematical method, we must understand the phrase "mathematical 
method " in the same wide sense in which it is to be understood 
in reading Descartes, as meaning simply the method which aims 
at knowing exactly what its initial assumptions mean, and at 
deducing their implications exactly and in the right order. This 
is the method of all genuine science whatsoever ; there is nothing 
in it, as Descartes rightly insisted, which involves any restriction 
to the special subject-matter, " number aitd quantity " (and, in 
fact, pure mathematics themselves have long ago outgrown the 
restriction). The point of the criticisms is that the p.aOr)p.ara 
themselves do not and cannot succeed in being absolutely true to 
the ideal of method they set before themselves. This is why we 
find that if we are to pursue the path of science to the end, we are 
driven to recognize the reality of " dialectic " as the crowning 
science of all sciences, and to demand that the existing fj.aOrjp.ara 
shall themselves be reconstituted on a more certain basis by the 
light of the dialectician's results. The recognition of this necessity 
may well belong to the actual Socrates, since the most sensational 
thing in the whole history of fifth-century science had been the 
demonstration by the dialectician Zeno that the postulates of 
mathematics, as hitherto prosecuted by the Pythagoreans, contra- 
dict one another. 1 To save mathematical science in the face of 
Zeno's arguments it became necessary in the fourth century to 
reconstruct the whole system, and the reconstruction is preserved 
for us in the Elements of Euclid. The men by whom the actual re- 
construction was done, Eudoxus, Theaetetus, and their companions, 
so far as they are known to us, were all associates of Plato himself 
in the Academy, and it is quite certain that this revision of the 
accepted first principles of mathematics was one of the chief 
problems to which the school devoted itself. In the Republic, 
which is concerned with the fifth century, we naturally hear nothing 
about the way in which the difficulty was subsequently met, but 
we are allowed to hear of the imminent need that the work should 
be done. 

The main thought is quite simple. In all the sciences the objects 
we are really studying are objects which we have to think but 
cannot see or perceive by any of our senses. Yet the sciences 
throughout direct attention to these objects, which are, in fact, 
forms, by appealing in the first instance to sense. The geometer 
draws a figure which he calls a " square " and a line which he calls 


1 To take one of the simplest examples : you cannot advance a step in 
elementary geometry without recognizing that any terminated straight line 
can be bisected, and there is no doubt that the Pythagorean geometers 
made the assumption. But it is also one of their assumptions that points are 
" units having position." If this is so, since a " unit " cannot be split, when I 
" bisect AB at C " ; C cannot be a " point of AB," and, in fact, cannot be a 
" point " at all. Thus one at least of the assumptions, " a straight line can 
be bisected at " a point," " a point is a unit having position," must be false. 
But the Pythagorean geometer cannot see his way to do without either. A1J 
Zeno's " antinomies " are of this type. 


its " diagonal." But when he demonstrates a proposition about 
the square and its diagonal, the objects of which he is speaking 
are not this visible figure and this visible line but the square and the 
diagonal, and these, of course, we do not see except "with the 
mind's eye " (vi. 510^-0). (It would not even be true to say, like 
Berkeley, that what he is talking about is this visible figure and 
an indefinite plurality of others which are " like " it, for the simple 
reason that we can construct no visible figure at all which exactly 
answers to his definition of a "square.") Further, all through 
his reasoning the geometer or arithmetician depends on certain 
" postulates " (vwofoWs) of which he " gives no account " 
(Ao'yoq), such as the " postulate " that every number is either odd 
or even, or that there are just three kinds of angle. It is meant 
that these postulates are neither immediately self-evident, nor is 
any proof given of them. They are " synthetic " in Kant's sense 
of the word, and they are assumed without proof (vi. $ioc-d). 
Thus there are two initial restrictions on the thinking of the mathe- 
maticians, as represented by the existing state of their science. 
They depend upon sensible things like diagrams as sources of 
suggestion, though not as the objects of their demonstrations. 
What cannot be " illustrated " or " represented " to the eye falls 
outside the scope of their science. And they make no attempt to 
reach real self-evidence in their initial postulates. They show 
that their theorems follow by logical necessity from a group of 
unproved premisses, but they do not undertake to show that there 
is any necessity to admit these premisses themselves. Thus the 
whole body of conclusions is left, so to say, hanging in the air. 
The geometer's " results " in the end rest on a tacit agreement 
(6/AoAoyta) between himself and his pupil or reader that the question 
whether his assumptions are justifiable shall not be asked. In 
strictness we cannot call the results " knowledge " so long as the 
assumptions from which they have been deduced are thus left 
unexamined (vii. 533s). 1 

This suggests to us at once the possibility and necessity of a 
higher and more rigorous science, " dialectic." Such a science 
would differ from the sciences in vogue in two ways : (i) it would 
treat the initial postulates of the sciences as mere starting-points 
to be used for the discovery of some more ultimate premisses which 
are not " postulated," but strictly self-luminous and evident 
a real " principle of everything," and when it had 

1 We may readily supply further examples in illustration of the two points 
on which Socrates dwells. Thus the notion that the visible diagram is either 
the object about which the geometer reasons, or at any rate, a necessary 
source of suggestion, is dispelled by the elementary consideration that e.g. a 
work on Conies commonly begins with propositions about the properties of the 
" general conic." But you cannot draw even a rough diagram of a " general 
conic." So the other point is well illustrated by the labour spent for cen- 
turies on trying to show that what we now know to be the arbitrary Euclidean 
postulate of parallels (that non-intersecting straight lines in the same piano 
are equidistant) is a necessity of thought. 


discovered such a principle (or principles), it would then deduce 
the consequences which follow ; (2) and in this movement no 
appeal would be made to sensible aids to the imagination, the double 
process of ascent to the " starting-point of everything " and descent 
again from it would advance from " forms by means of forms to 
forms and terminate upon them " (vi. 5ii6-c). In fact, we may 
even say that " dialectic " would " destroy " (dvatpetv) the postu- 
lates of the existing sciences (ras viroOta-us avaipovo-a, vii. 533c), 
that is, it would deprive them of the character of ultimate postu- 
lates by showing that so far as they are not actually false, as 
they may turn out to be they are consequences of still more 
ultimate truths. 

In this account of the aims of dialectic we recognize at once the 
method described in the Phaedo as that of tricei/us cv Xdyot? on 
which Socrates had fallen back after his disillusionment about 
Anaxagoras. Only here the special emphasis is thrown on just 
that side of the dialectic method which the immediate purposes of 
the Phaedo permitted us to dismiss in a single sentence. We are 
contemplating the procedure there said to be necessary if anyone 
disputes an initial " postulate." In that case, the Phaedo told us, 
our " postulate " will require to be itself deduced as a consequence 
from one more ultimate, and the process will have to be repeated 
until we come to a postulate which all parties are content to accept. 
In the last resort this would, of course, involve deduction from some 
principle which can be seen to possess unquestionable internal 
necessity. Thus, so far, the Republic agrees exactly with the 
Phaedo about the task of " dialectic," except that it lays special 
stress on just that part of it which had not to be taken into account 
in the Phaedo because the company there were all willing to admit 
the doctrine of forms as a " postulate " without demanding any 
justification of it. It is clear from the Republic that if a disputant 
should refuse to make this admission, the theory of forms itself 
would require to be examined in the same way in which the postu- 
lates of the mathematician von Fach are to be investigated. In 
the one passage of the dialogues where any such examination is 
made, it is not put into the mouth of Socrates but into that of the 
Pythagorean Timaeus (Tim. 516 7 ff.). 

Though Socrates naturally confines himself to criticisms of the 
sciences which had attained some degree of organization in his 
own day, it is obvious that they would apply with equal force to 
any others. Physics, chemistry, biology, economics are all full of 
undefined " primitive notions " and undemonstrated assumptions, 
and it is part of the work of the students of these sciences themselves 
to make a steady effort to ascertain just what their untested pre- 
suppositions are, and to consider how far they are really required, 
and how far they form a consistent system. The progress made 
by pure mathematics in the last half -century has largely consisted 
in a more accurate and complete statement of the " primitive 
notions " and ** indemonstrable postulates " of the science and the 


elimination of numerous conscious or tacit " postulates " as actually 
false. Thus, for example, the process by which the Infinitesimal 
Calculus has been purged of bad logic and false assumptions, or 
the development of " non-Euclidean geometry,' 1 is an excellent 
illustration of the self-criticism and self-correction of thought which 
Socrates and Plato call " dialectic. " Socrates 1 complaint (vii. 
5330) about the mathematician who gives the name of science to a 
procedure in which the starting-point is something one does not 
know, and the conclusion and the intermediate steps "combina- 
tions of things one does not know," would be a perfectly correct 
description of the contents of any average text-book of the Calculus 
in vogue seventy years ago. And it is manifest that the same sort 
of scrutiny is required by such notions as " force/ 1 " accelera- 
tion/' "atomicity," "evolution," "price." They are all inevit- 
ably in practical use long before the sciences which employ them 
have formulated any very precise account of their meaning, ^nd 
the progress of science as science (as distinct from its application 
to " commerce ") consists very largely in the steady correction of 
our first crude attempts to explain what we mean by them. The 
physicist of to-day may, like Democritus, make the " atomic 
structure of matter " a foundation-stone of his science, but he 
means by his " atom " something Democritus would not have 
recogriized as " atomic " at all. Similarly we all talk of the " evolu- 
tion " of species, but the view that new species originate by sudden 
and considerable " mutations," if established, would change the 
whole character of the special " Darwinian " postulate about the 
character of the process ; it would involve exactly what Socrates 
means by a " destruction " of the postulate. Thus, so far, we may 
say that what the Republic calls " dialectic " is, in principle, simply 
the rigorous and unremitting task of steady scrutiny of the in- 
definables and indemonstrables of the sciences, and that, in par- 
ticular, his ideal, so far as the sciences with which he is directly 
concerned goes, is just that reduction of mathematics to rigorous 
deduction from expressly formulated logical premisses by exactly 
specified logical methods of which the work of Peano, Frege, White- 
head, and Russell has given us a magnificent example. 

But the " reduction of all pure mathematics to logic " is only 
a part, and not the most important part, of what the Republic 
understands by " dialectic." Such a unification of the sciences 
as the Republic contemplates would require a combination of the 
reduction of mathematics to logic with the Cartesian reduction of 
the natural sciences to geometry. When the task was finished, no 
proposition asserting "matter of fact," devoid of internal necessity, 
should appear anywhere among the premisses from which our con- 
clusions are ultimately drawn. The first principles to which the 
dialectician traces back all our knowledge ought to exhibit a self- 
evident necessity, so that science would end by transforming all 
" truths of fact " into what Leibniz called " truths of reason." 
This involves a still more significant extension of the range of 


"science." It implies that in a completed philosophy the dis- 
tinctions between value and fact, essentia and esse, So-sein and Sein 
are transcended. The man who has attained " wisdom " would see 
that the reason why anything is, and the reason why it is what it is, 
are both to be found in the character of an ens realissimum of which 
it is self-evident that it is and that it is what it is, a self-explanatory 
" supreme being/ 1 This is why dialectic is said to culminate in 
direct apprehension of " the good " as the source of both existence 
and character. The thought is that all science in the end can be 
transformed into a sort of " algebra," but an algebra which is, 
as Burnet says, teleological. The demand for such a science is, in 
fact, already contained by implication in the remark of Socrates in 
the Phaedo that he hoped to find in Anaxagoras a solution of the 
problem of the shape and position of the earth based on proof that 
" it is best " that it should have just that shape and position and 
no^ other (Phaedo qjd-e). When a modern biologist explains the 
structure of an organism by the notion of " adaptation " to its 
environment he is thus using on a small scale the principle which the 
Republic would make the supreme universal principle of all scientific 
explanation whatsoever. Only, of course, the biological concep- 
tion of " adaptation " stops short with a relative best ; the par- 
ticular environment of a particular species is taken as (relatively) 
constant and independent ; the " best " realized in the develop- 
ment of the species is adequate adaptation to that given environ- 
ment. When the principle is made universal, the " best " becomes 
an ethical and absolute best, since no place is left for an " environ- 
ment " of everything. The " goodness of God," or its equivalent, 
takes the place of the fixed " environment " as that to which the 
structure of things is conceived as " adapted." 

We need not suppose that Plato imagined this programme 
for the completion of science as capable of actual execution by 
human beings. We have learned from the Symposium that " philo- 
sophy " itself is a life of progress, it is not those who are already 
in possession of "wisdom," but those who are endeavouring after 
it, who philosophize. The Timaeus reminds us with almost weari- 
some repetition that, in physical science in particular, all our 
results are inevitably provisional, the best we can reach with our 
present lights, and that we must be prepared to see them all super- 
seded or modified. One of the standing contrasts between Plato 
and his great disciple Aristotle is just that this sense of the pro- 
visionality and progressiveness of science is so prominent in the 
one and so absent from the other. Plato never assumes, as Aristotle 
was so apt to assume, that he can do the world's scientific thinking 
for it once for all. This apparent finality, which made Aristotle 
so attractive to the thinkers of the thirteenth century, who were 
just recovering the thought of " Nature " as a field for study on her 
own account, makes the real value of Aristotle's science rather 
difficult for us to appreciate to-day. Plato was far too true to the 
Socratic conception of the insignificance of human knowledge by 


comparison with the vastness of the scientific problem to fall into 
the vein of cheap and easy dogmatism. But though the final 
" rationalization " of things may be an unattainable goal, there is 
no reason why we should not try to get as near to the goal as we 
can. If we cannot expel the element of " brute fact " for which we 
can see no reason from science, we may try, and we ought to try, 
to reduce it to a minimum. We cannot completely " mathematize " 
human knowledge, but the more we can mathematize it, the better. 
We shall see, when we come to speak of Plato's oral teaching in the 
Academy, how earnestly he set himself to carry out the programme 
by getting behind the mere assumption of the forms as the last 
word in philosophy, and deducing the forms themselves from the 
" good/ 1 

(c) It should be unnecessary to dwell on the point that, with all 
his devotion to this demand for a critical metaphysic of the sciences, 
Plato is no champion of a mere vita contemplativa divorced from 
practical social activity. One could not even say that he, like 
Kant, conceives of " speculative " and " practical " reason as 
active in two distinct spheres of which one is subordinated to the 
other. To his mind, the two spheres are inseparable. The uni- 
fication of science is only possible to one who is illuminated by the 
vision of the Good which is the principle of the unification, and the 
Good is only seen by the man who lives it. Hence the demand that 
the " philosopher " shall devote the best years of his working life 
to the arduous practice of governing, in all its details great or small, 
is only the other side of the conviction that without the " heroic " 
character no one will ever rise to the supreme rank in science itself. 
The " philosopher " is necessarily a missionary and a sort of lesser 
Providence to mankind because, on Socratic principles, the " Good " 
cannot be seen without drawing all who see it into its service. The 
" philosophers' " social activity is all the more effective that it is 
not pursued directly for its own sake, in the spirit of the well- 
meaning but tiresome persons of our own day who take up " social 
work " as they might take up typewriting or civil engineering, but 
issues naturally and inevitably, as a sort of " by-product,' 1 from 
their aspiration after something else, just as the " great inventions " 
of modern times regularly issue from the discoveries of men who 
were not thinking at all of the applications of science to convenience 
and commerce, or as art, literature, social life have all owed an 
incalculable debt to St. Francis and his " little brethren," who never 
gave a thought to any of them. 

(12) This desultory chapter may be brought to an end by a few 
remarks on the impressive picture of Republic viii.-ix. about the 
stages of progressive degeneration through which personal and 
national character pass as the true ideal of life falls more completely 
out of view. It should be obvious that the primary interest of these 
sketches is throughout ethical, not political. The " imperfect " 
constitutions are examined in order to throw light on the different 
phases of personal human sinfulness, not in the interests of a theory 


of political institutions. We see the sinfulness of even " honour- 
able " ambition or " business principles," when they are made the 
mainspring of a man's life, more clearly by considering the type 
of national character exhibited by a community in which these 
motives determine the character of national life. Socrates is still 
adhering to his declared purpose of using the " larger letters " 
to decipher the smaller. In the sketches themselves, Socrates is 
all through " drawing with his eye on the object." We are told 
in so many words that Sparta has furnished the model for the 
picture of the second-best society, where education is neglected and 
the highest moral ideal is to display the character of a good fighting- 
man and sportsman, i.e. the society in which " honourable ambition/' 
the pursuit of the cursus honor urn, is thought the supreme virtue. 
As mankind go, a community of this kind is not a bad one ; it is 
morally in a much healthier state than a society where every one 
regards " getting rich " as the great aim in life, and the " merchant 
prince " is the national hero. Rome, in its better days, would be 
an example of the kind of society intended, no less than Sparta. 
The point of Socrates' criticism is that when " ambition " becomes 
master instead of servant, it is not likely to remain " honourable " 
ambition, ambition to " serve." From the first, the ambition of 
the " timocratic " State has not been aspiration to be pre-eminent 
in the best things ; at their best, the Spartans made a very poor 
contribution to the positive pursuit of the highest life. When 
they were not at their best, their " ambition " took the form of 
mere devotion to military success ; and at their worst, ihey were 
mere aspirants to the exercise of power and the accumulation of 
the wealth to be got by " empire," as the " timocratic man," in 
his old age, degenerates into the kind of character who is greedy 
of the power money will give him. It ought to have been im- 
possible to find any idealization of Sparta in the picture. As I have 
written elsewhere, it would be truer to say that in the Republic 
we discern the shadows of the third-century ephors and of Nabis 
behind the " respectable " figure of Agesilaus. 

It is generally admitted that the picture of the " democratic " 
city where every one does as he pleases, and the most typical of 
citizens is the gifted amateur who plays, as the mood takes him, 
at every kind of life from that of the voluptuary to that of the 
ascetic a sort of Goethe, in fact is a humorous satire on Athenian 
life and manners. Of course we should be alive to the further point 
that the satire would be wholly beside the mark if directed against 
the drab and decent bourgeois Athens of Plato's manhood. The 
burlesque is aimed directly against the Imperial democracy of the 
spacious days of Pericles when Athens was a busy home of world- 
commerce and the " new learning." If we read the description 
side by side with the famous Funeral Oration in Thucydides, we 
shall see at once that the very notes of Athenian life which Pericles 
there selects as evidence of its superiority are carefully dwelt upon 
by Socrates for the opposite purpose of proving that, for all its 


surface brilliancy, such a life is at bottom so diseased that society 
is on the verge of complete collapse. I, at least, cannot avoid the 
conviction that Socrates sees in just what must have been the great 
charm of Athens for men like Sophocles, Protagoras, Herodotus its 
apparently inexhaustible variety and freshness the unmistakable 
" symptoms of the end/ 1 1 (Perhaps he was not very far wrong. 
What would probably have been the issue of the Penclean age if 
Alcibiades, the incarnation of its energy and versatility, had returned 
triumphant from the subjugation of Sicily ? One may " hazard a 
wide solution/') 

We are given no hint of the source from which the picture of 
the intermediate society, where wealth is the great title to admira- 
tion and " merchant princes " control the national destiny, is 
taken. But I do not doubt that we can name the State which 
Plato has in mind. When we remember that, as we see from 
allusions in the Laws and in Aristotle's Politics, 2 there were just 
three cities whose constitutions impressed Greek thinkers by their 
appearance of being framed on definite principles Sparta, Crete, 
and Carthage. I think it may safely be assumed that Carthage 
has supplied the hints for the Venice or Amsterdam of the Re- 
public, just as we may presume that Socrates has the Carthaginians 
more than anyone else in fnind in the earlier passage where he 
remarks on the exceptional aptitude of " Phoenicians " for com- 
merce. The subsequent history of Carthage during the first two 
Punic wars affords an interesting commentary on what is said 
about the internal dissensions which paralyse the " oligarchical 
city/' On the concluding argument, by which the life of respect 
for right is pronounced far superior in happiness to the life of sating 
one's cupidities and ambitions, 3 there is no need to say much. The 
reasoning is that we have already met in the Gorgias, and turns on 
the application of the medical formula of " depletion and recovery 
from depletion " to the moral life. The " passions," like the 
physical appetites of hunger and thirst, are capable of no permanent 
and progressive satisfaction. You feed full to-day, but to-morrow 
finds you as hungry again as though to-day had never been. What 
you mistake for happiness has been only the temporary arrest of 
a " depletion/' On the other hand, what you gain in knowledge 

1 Cf. V. Soloviev's saying that " visible and accelerated progress is a symp- 
tom of the end/' 

a Arist. Politics, B n (12726 24 ff. ; note that Aristotle too comments 
on the "plutocracy " of the Carthaginian scheme, and plutocracy is what is 
meant by " oligarchy " in the Republic). For a reference to Carthage in the 
Laws, see Laws, 674*1, written, no doubt, after Plato's association with affairs 
in Sicily had made Carthage very much of an actuality to him. Commerce 
made Carthage an object of interest to Athens in the Periclean age (Aristoph. 
Knights, 174), and it has been plausibly suggested that the great plague of 
the third year of the Archidamian war was brought to Athens from Carthage 
by infected merchandise. 

8 Republic, ix. 5836 ff . Cf . 

" ' Mete unto wombe and worn be eek unto mete, 
Shall God destroyen bothe/ as Paulus seith." 


and goodness is not won to-day to be " excreted " by the time to- 
morrow is upon you. It is permanently acquired. It is not 
with character and intellect as it is with bodily health, which is 
a mere balance between antithetic processes of waste and repair ; 
character and intellect are KT^ara cs aUi. This is the reason 
for the distinction between the " false " pleasures of sensuality and 
ambition and the "true" pleasures of the philosophic life. 
The former are "false," not in the sense that they are not 
really felt, but in the sense that they are not what they 
promise to be. " Alle Lust will Ewigkeit," but no Ewigkeit is to be 
got out of the jSibs <iA.ocra)ju,aTos or the /fc'os <iA(m/x.o9, a truth 
which no special pleading for Hedonism can explain away. I wil ] 
add one final caution against possible misinterpretation. Plato 
credits the " three lives " with distinctive pleasures, much as Mill 
talks of a distinction of " higher " and " lower " in pleasure. 1 
But he gives a rational reason for his preference of the " philo- 
sopher's " pleasure where Mill gives an absurd one. Mill tries to 
persuade his readers that a jury of pleasure-tasters devoid of all 
moral principle would be unanimous in preferring the philosopher's 
pleasures, or, alternatively, that the dissentients may be disabled 
as no genuine connoisseurs. 2 Plato gives the right reason for the 
preference, that the issue is one which must be decided by " in- 
telligence," and it is just intelligence which the philosopher has and 
his rivals have not. This is what John Grote also meant when he 
said that Mill's argument is based on a misconception of our reason 
for attaching weight to the philosopher's verdict. We go to him 
not as Mill assumes, for evidence, but for authority? 
See further : 

NETTLESHIP, R. L. " Lectures on the Republic of Plato " 
(vol. ii. of Philosophical Remains) ; Plato's Conception oj 
Goodness and the Good ; The Theory of Education in Plato's 
Republic in Hellenica *, 61-165. 
NATORP, P. Platons Ideenlehre, 175-215. 
RITTER, C. Platon, ii. 3-39, 554-641 al. ; Platons Staat, Darstel- 

lung des Inhalts. (Stuttgart, 1909.) 

RAEDER, H. Platons philosophische Entwickelung, 181-245. 
BARKER, E. Greek Political Theory : Plato and his Predecessors, 


STEWART, J. A. Myths of Plato, 133-172 (Myth of Er), 471-474 

(Myth of the Earth-born] ; Plato's Doctrine of Ideas, 47-62. 

SHORE Y, P. Plato's Republic. (London and New York, Vol. I. 

1930, Vol. II. I935-) 

DIES, A. Introduction to the edition of the dialogue in the 
Collection des Universite's de France. (Paris, 1932.) 

1 Republic, 5820-0. 

1 Mill's plea is a perfect example of the kind of argument the Greeks called 
a Aoyos dvTiarp<f>a)v, i.e. one which makes for neither party, because it can 
be equally well applied by the other. If the sage disables the judgment of 
the profligate on the plea that he must have lost the taste for the " higher 
pleasures " before he can prefer the lower, the profligate can equally retort on 
the sage with the adage about sour grapes. " You have taken to philosophy," 
he may say, " because you are physically too old to enjoy debauchery." 

* Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy, p. 47. 


THE Phaedrus presents a double difficulty to the student of 
Plato's work as a whole. What is its proper place in the 
series of the dialogues ? And what is its purpose ? Is it, 
as it professes to be, a discussion of the principles upon which 
" rhetoric" (prose style) may be made into a " science," or is its 
real subject Eros ? Is Plato primarily concerned with the question 
of the use and abuse of sexual passion, or are the speeches Socrates 
delivers on this topic merely examples of the right and the wrong 
use of persuasive eloquence ? 

The first question, on examination, proves capable of being 
narrowed down to one which we may regard as of minor importance. 
No serious student of Platonic style now defends the singular theory 
of some critics in classical antiquity that the prominence of Eros 
in the dialogue and the loaded rhetoric of Socrates' encomium 
on him prove the work to be a youthful writing, perhaps the earliest 
of all the dialogues. 2 It is matter of common agreement that, on 
stylistic grounds, the dialogue cannot be placed earlier than those 
works of Plato's maturity as a writer with which we have been 
dealing in the last four chapters ; it cannot be far removed from 
the great quadrilateral in point of date. But there still remains 
the question whether it may be earlier than some of these four, or 
whether it is later than all of them. In particular, we have to ask 
whether the Phaedrus is earlier or later than the Republic. Argu- 
ments from stylometry cannot be wholly trusted in this case, since 
it is manifest that many of the peculiarities of language are due to 
deliberate imitation. On the whole, the stylometrists appear to be 
satisfied that the Phaedrus is the later of the two works, and this 
view is plausibly supported by the contention urged by H. Raeder, 
that some of the details of the mythical part of the dialogue are 
hardly intelligible except on the assumption that its readers would 
be familiar with Republic v. and the concluding myth of Republic x. 
I do not myself find the argument conclusive. 3 On the other hand, 

1 On the problems connected with the dialogue, see inter cetera Thompson, 
Phaedrus, Introduction; C. Ritter, Platon, i. 256; H. Raeder, Platons philoso- 
phische Entwickelung, 245 ff. 

1 Diogenes Laertius (iii, 25) mentions the theory ; Olympiodorus repeats 
the story as a fact. 

8 Raeder sees in the mention of the " journey of a thousand years " on 
which the soul enters after each incarnation (Phaedrus, 2490) a reference to 
the fuller explanation in the Republic (6i5a). This is inconclusive, since the 



as we shall see in the next chapter, there is convincing reason for 
thinking that the Theaetetus, which pretty certainly opens the group 
of dialogues of Plato's later life, was not written until about twenty 
years after the Republic and its immediate fellows, and it is perhaps 
hard to believe that so great a writer as Plato was absolutely silent 
through so long a period. Hence I have nothing to set against the 
conclusions of recent eminent scholars on the point, and would 
merely remark that the priority of the Republic is not absolutely 
demonstrable, and also that, in view of the difference in spirit 
between Republic and Theaetetus, we must fairly suppose the 
Phaedrus, if the composition falls in the interval between those two 
dialogues, to have been written early rather than late in the interval. 

The other problem is more difficult, and I would recommend 
the reader to suspend his judgment on it until he has followed our 
analysis of the dialogue. My own opinion is on the side of those 
who regard the right use of "rhetoric " as the main topic, for the 
following simple reason. In Socrates, with whom the " tendance 
of the soul " was the great business of life, it is quite intelligible 
that a discussion of the use of rhetoric or anything else should be 
found to lead up to the great issues of conduct. If the real subject 
of the Phaedrus were sexual love, it is hard to see how its elaborate 
discussion of the possibility of applying a scientific psychology 
of the emotions to the creation of a genuine art of persuasion, or 
its examination of the defects of Lysias as a writer, can be anything 
but the purest irrelevance. 

In structure the dialogue is of the simplest type. Socrates falls 
in with Phaedrus who is, under medical advice, taking a consti- 
tutional in the country outside the city walls, and, for the sake of 
his company, joins him, departing for once from his preference for 
the streets of the town. He soon persuades Phaedrus to sit down 
by the bank of the Ilissus under the shade of a plane tree ; the 
conversation which ensues takes place here and is strictly tete-a-tete. 
As for the supposed date of the conversation, it can be approximately 
fixed by the opening sentences. Lysias, who figures as a mere lad 
in the Republic, is now at the height of his fame as a writer of Aoyot 
(228a), and is living at Athens (2276). We may add the further 
detail that Polemarchus is also alive and, according to Socrates, 
" has betaken himself to philosophy " (2576), also that Isocrates, 
though still young, is already rivalling Lysias in his profession ; 
Socrates anticipates that he may either throw Lysias and all former 
professors of it into the shade, or even aspire to a still higher calling, 

period seems in both cases to be taken over from current Orphic mythology. 
So the reference to the " lots " which play a part in assigning a new body to 
the soul (Phaedrus ,2 496) need not be to Republic 6ijd, since the K\ijpoi appear to 
be Orphic (Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy 3 , 190 n. 3). Still less convincing is 
the argument that the Phaedrus tacitly presupposes the doctrine of the " parts 
of the soul " expounded in Republic iv., since this is equally true of the Goreias, 
as we have seen, and the doctrine appears to be a piece of fifth-century Pytnag- 
oreanism. Raeder's other arguments are complicated by the assumption 
that the dialogue contains a polemic against Isocrates. On this vide infra. 


for " there really is philosophy in him " (2790). The conversation 
thus falls at some date between 411, when Polemarchus and Lysias 
returned to Athens from Thurii, and the year of anarchy, 404-3, 
when Polemarchus fell a victim to the " Thirty." The tradition 
was that Isocrates was some seven years older than Plato, so that 
his birth would fall about 435 B.C. ; as he survived the battle of 
Chaeronea (338 B.C.), he cannot well have been born much if any 
earlier; hence he would be about twenty-four in 411 and thirty-one 
in the " year of anarchy/ 1 A date intermediate between 411 and 
404 is thus required by the supposed facts. We note then that 
Phaedrus must now be between five and twelve years older than 
when we met him in the Symposium ; no lad (for he figured in the 
Protagoras), but a man at least approaching forty 1 ; Socrates is a 
ytpwv, a man of at least sixty^ and perhaps more. 

When Socrates falls in with Phaedrus, the time of day is already 
close on noon (this explains why the pair so soon take rest under the 
plane-tree). Phaedrus has spent the early morning listening to a 
brilliant and paradoxical Aoyos we should call it an essay by 
Lysias in defence of the thesis that a lad should be kinder to a 
wooer who is not " in love " than to one who is. He has the written 
text with him, and Socrates professes to believe that he is taking 
his solitary stroll for the express purpose of getting it by heart. 
The main point of the short and playful conversation between 
Socrates and Phaedrus as they make their way to the place they 
have chosen for their siesta (227-230) is to pitch the ethical key 
for what is to follow. Socrates is not interested in the " rationaliza- 
tion of myths/' like that of Boreas and Orithyia, because he is pre- 
occupied with a graver problem, that of learning to " know him- 
self " ; he is indifferent to the charms of the country, because the 
trees, unlike the men he meets in the streets, can " teach him 
nothing " that bears on this supreme topic, the moral being of man. 
These remarks prepare us for the moral earnestness with which the 
merits of Lysias's essay and the possibilities of rhetoric are to be 
treated in the body of the dialogue. 

THE ESSAY OF LYSIAS (2300-2340). It has been disputed 
whether the discourse Phaedrus proceeds to read is an authentic 
composition of Lysias or a brilliant imitation of his style by Plato 
himself. There is no evidence either way, but for my own part, I 
feel that we must agree with those scholars, including Lysias' 
latest editor, Hude, who regard the essay as genuine. No one 
doubts Plato's ability to compose a Xoyos for Lysias with perfect 
fidelity to the style of the supposed author. But, since the dialogue 
ends with severe and formal censure of Lysias, founded on a search- 
ing criticism of the Arfyog, I find it difficult to believe that the 
document is an invention. It would be self-stultifying to publish 
a severe criticism of a well-known author based on an imitation of 
him which the critic had composed for his own purposes and could 

1 The same point is taken by Parmentier, Bulletin de I' association Guillaunw 
No. 10, p. 4. 


not expect readers to take as authentic. One might as well suppose 
that Berkeley could have made the point he wants to make in 
Alciphron about the false glitter and shallowness of Shaftesbury 
by composing an imitation of the Characteristics. Plato's purpose, 
like Berkeley's, demands that the attack should be made on work 
which is both genuine and admired by the circles whose literary 
and moral false taste is to be exposed. Hude seems to me fully 
justified in printing the discourse as part of his text of Lysias. 

The thesis of Lysias, we must remember, would be an offensive 
paradox even to the section of Athenian society which practised 
" unnatural " aberrations. The fashionable theory was that the 
relations in question are ennobled when they are inspired by genuine 
" romantic " attachment, but not otherwise, as is taken for granted 
by the encomiasts of them in the Symposium. To suffer the 
advances of an cpacrn?? from calculations of advantage was regarded 
as the basest thing a Greek lad could do. For a modern parallel 
to the paradox we might imagine a clever essay written to show that 
Tom Jones's conduct towards Lady Bellaston is morally more 
innocent than his affair with Molly Seagrim. We must not suppose 
that Lysias intends his argument to be taken seriously. He simply 
means to exhibit his cleverness by showing how good a case he can 
make out for the worst conduct, much as a clever writer to-day 
might amuse himself and his readers by an essay on the moral 
elevation of a bomb-throwing " Communist/' But there are theses 
which cannot be defended and arguments which cannot be employed, 
even in jest, without revealing deep-seated moral depravity or 
insensibility ; the kind of cleverness which sustains such theses 
by the use of such arguments is a real moral danger to the com- 
munity and requires to be countered, as it is by Socrates, with better 
morality and superior wit. 

The discourse may be summarized very briefly ; it is throughout 
an appeal to considerations of " utility " in the most sordid sense 
of the word. One is likely to make one's price much more effectively 
out of a suitor who is a cold sensualist. Romantic love has its 
fits of repentance and its lovers' quarrels ; it changes its object, 
and when it does so, it passes into hate and scorn. It imperils 
reputation, since the romantic suitor " blabs " of his success, while 
the business-like sensualist knows how to hold his tongue. The 
" lover " is notoriously jealous and tries to monopolize his beloved ; 
the cool sensualist does not object to going shares with rivals recom- 
mended by their wealth or other qualities. 1 The " lover " is 
attracted by physical charm before he has considered the suita- 
bility of the connexion in other respects ; the man who is not " in 
love " chooses carefully. The lover's judgment is blinded by his 
passion, and this makes him the worst of confidants and advisers. 
He flatters one's weaknesses and quarrels with one's better qualities. 
On all these grounds it is absurd to expect solid and lasting advan- 
tage irom one's complaisances towards him. (Manifestly such a 
1 Like our own Charles II, to take an actual example. 


discourse, apart from the moral turpitude which pervades it, is 
really a failure, considered merely as a defence of its thesis. Lysias 
gives a number of excellent reasons for thinking that it is bad to 
" grant favours to a lover " ; he has given no reason for thinking 
that it may not be as bad, or worse, to grant them to a sensual 
" man of the world." The speech is thus, judged by any reasonable 
standard, bad rhetoric, as well as bad ethics, a point which Socrates 
will not be slow to make.) 

Socrates professes at first to have paid no attention to the 
matter of the discourse. He was attending wholly to its stylistic 
qualities, and these even Lysias himself could hardly approve, 
since it was full of empty repetition and tautology. The mere 
recollection of what poets like Sappho and Anacreon have said about 
love would enable a man to make a much better speech on the same 
theme. Lysias has in fact shown no " invention " in his essay ; he 
has merely dwelt on one obvious point, the " blindness " and 
irrationality of the lover's passion/' a point no one could miss. The 
whole merit of his performance, if it has any, must be looked 
for in the arrangement (8ia0e<ris) of this commonplace material. 
Phaedrus himself admits this (236^-6), but challenges Socrates, if 
he can, to treat the same theme (u7ro'0e<rts), the admitted " madness " 
of the lover's passion, better than Lysias has done. Socrates 
accepts the challenge, with a prayer to the Muses to make up for 
his well-known ignorance by the aid of their " inspiration." With 
this preface he makes a rival speech on the theme, only carefully 
introducing one slight but significant modification. The supposed 
speaker, in his discourse, is to be not a cold-blooded sensualist 
making a disgraceful " business proposition," but a " lover " astute 
enough to cloak his passion under an appearance of indifference. 
(This gives Socrates a double advantage over Lysias. He safe- 
guards his own character by abstaining from even a playful defence 
of a morally disgraceful thesis, and he leaves himself free, if he 
pleases, to urge subsequently that the apparent reasonability 
of the speech is only the simulated rationality of a madman, since 
the client into whose mouth it is put is really inspired all the time 
by " romantic " unreason.) 

FIRST SPEECH OF SOCRATES. Thesis : It is Bad to Listen to 
the Blandishments of a "Lover" (2376-241^). The first requisite 
for all sound deliberation is to know the real character of the object 
about which we are deliberating. Since the question is whether 
one should yield to a lover, we must start by understanding what 
" love " is, and what it aims at, and whether it is for our good or 
for our harm. " Love " is, of course, a desire or craving for some- 
thing. Now there are two principal types of desire the " inborn " 
craving for the pleasant, and the desire for the " best," which is not 
inborn, but has to be acquired, and is based on judgment (So'a) 
and there is often a clash between the two. The victory of judg- 
ment (8o'a) in this conflict over appetitive craving is what we 
call sophro$yne ; the victory of appetite over our judgment of good 


we call "lust 11 or "passion" (vppis). "Love" (ipw, sexual 
passion) is one special variety of vftpi* or " lust." It is the prev- 
alence of violent desire for the pleasant uninformed by rational 
judgment of good, when aroused by physical beauty (2380). The 
question before us, then, is whether it is for the benefit or for the 
hurt of the party who has aroused such a passion to gratify it. 
And here, Socrates says, he will give the rein to an almost " poetical " 
eloquence with which he feels himself inspired beyond his ordinary, 
perhaps by the surr